I’m very glad that I finally crossed The Perks of Being a Wallflower off my list. I’d seen the movie years ago, which only made me more interested to read the book. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet you really should. I think it does a really, really great job with this story. And well cast, too.
I think this book is a new favorite of mine. The only thing about it that I might change would be to have read it at a younger age. It truly is a perfect young adult read. The story, the protagonist Charlie’s authentic, pure perspective on the fragile high school years, the perfect capture of those one-in-a-lifetime friendships, and the subtle telling of a larger more grievous story all made for a powerful read. And I loved the letter-writing style. It felt like Charlie was confiding in you. Of course this is an intentional literary tool, but admittedly it worked very well for Charlie’s story.
And who wouldn’t love Charlie? I mean, when he has thoughts like this you can’t help but love him (but I’m a mom, so I’m biased):
“I love my mom so much. I don’t care if that’s corny to say. I think on my next birthday, I’m going to get her a present. I think that should be the tradition. The kids get gifts from everybody, and he buys one present for his mom since she was there, too. I think that would be nice.”
Charlie is so vulnerable, kind and loyal. And yet he has these out-of-body moments of strength and anger. To me, that’s the battle young adults face as they experience the exponential passing of time. They’re vulnerabilities are constantly at odds with their strengths and frustrations as they naively rush into adulthood. And I love that this book captured that struggle in Charlie’s journey…
“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.”
There are so many moments in this book that so perfectly capture that realization. Time and age are inevitabilities. And that makes us angry. Right?
I think the greatest message this book send is that we all have our own story. Behind all public perceptions, everyone has a backstory hidden from view. Some better than others. Charlie, Charlie’s sister, Charlie’s aunt, Charlie’s friends Sam and Patrick all have their own stories of love and loss, mistakes and victories. And although this book sets out to peel back the layers of Charlie’s larger story, we unfold the stories of all the other people around him. And they all play a part in Charlie’s reality, which I love. We all matter. Our stories all matter. And consequently, we all matter to each other.
There’s no better time than now, considering what’s being said and done in our world today, to realize this and live by this truth. I wish the world were as kind and strong as Charlie. We’re not without flaws and damage, but as Charlie’s favorite teacher tells him, “Try to be a filter, not a sponge.” I guess to some people that might mean different things. But to me, this means filter out the good, instead of absorbing all the bad and ugliness of our world(s).
I think we should all aspire to be as kind and courageous as Charlie.
(bonus points if you know which other protagonist lives by courage and kindness…?)