The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Dear Friend,

I just finished reading the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, I thought I'd tell you about it. To make things clear, I watched the movie first, sometime during last semester. I thought it was great and then I decided I had to read the book.

Let me paint the picture of watching Perks (as they call it), for the first time. I wasn't really sure what to expect, I was going in blind—as I like to do with most stories. It was late and after a long day of schoolwork, I'd decided to steal some time for myself. Halfway through the movie I find myself furious with Charlie's relationship choices and realizing how easily I had become invested in the characters. Then, out of nowhere everything clicks and I'm blindsided by the ending. I watched the movie again as soon as I could because I wanted to not cry this time soak in all the details after figuring out what was really going on behind the scenes. Having now read the book, I can safely say that the movie does it justice. It was directed by Chbosky himself, and stays incredibly true to the story and essence of the book. Impressive.

There are immediate downsides to watching the movie first. Primarily, I find it almost impossible to deviate from the movie's visuals while reading. There's less opportunity to "fill in the blanks" in terms of what everything looks like because the movie does all that for you. I read the words for what they are but the characters don't "grow" like they do when you go into a book blind. In this way, the movie becomes definitive; canonical. That being said, this isn't much of a problem for Perks, the movie feels right.

One thing I can say about the book is that it allowed me to feel a stronger connection with Charlie compared to what I first felt watching the film. Because everything is written as a letter to a friend, every event is extremely personal. The letters are there in the movie as well, but it's easy to forget about them when you're watching the story play out in real-time instead of reading about the aftermath. The letters add an extra sense of distance, which in a way brings you closer to Charlie. The acid scene is a perfect example of this.

Right away, Charlie was freakishly relatable to me. Only a few pages in and Charlie is talking about how he likes to read books twice, something I've mentioned in the past. Go a couple pages further and there is questioning of the use of learning words no one uses. Incidentally, I wrote about this topic when I read A Tale of Two Cities. After realizing this I first thought what I wrote had to be cliché, considering the fact that some made up fourteen year old was saying the same thing I was saying; then I got over it and eased up to the idea of this weird familiarity.

There are a lot of similarities here to The Catcher and the Rye. The comparison between the two is nearly inescapable since Charlie reads Catcher (as I call it), himself. One such similarity that I noticed is that Charlie, like Holden Caulfield, makes friends with his English teacher. The difference is, this time the teacher is actually a pretty good guy and has a positive impact on the protagonist.

Through this relationship, Chbosky stresses the importance of reading and writing outside of traditional education. I think it's self-evident that I also hold these values as I am currently writing this letter. I'm not sure if Charlie really knows it but his teacher—Bill—played a big role in him making it out okay in the end. I think a degree of separation is required to really appreciate people. I never thanked my English teacher.

Besides Catcher, a plethora of other books and media are referenced. In particular, Asleep is a banger and is used brilliantly in the movie. The past couple of books I've read have had literature play a major role in the story. In notice of this, I've come up with a theory as to why books about books become popular. First off, I think writers are the type of people to reference books. To be a good writer you have to read a lot, and when you're someone who reads a lot, it seems natural that books become one of your main talking points. So when Chbosky says that Perks is loosely based around his own experiences as a teenager, it makes sense why the protagonist is an avid reader.

Now, the writer is only one side of the equation; there are also readers to consider. Well, this seems even more obvious to me. Any book about books immediately appeals to its demographic, because if you're someone who reads then you must like books in some capacity.

I feel like if I had read this book four years ago things might have went differently. Charlie stumbles into a lot of pitfalls that I had to traverse around that age and having a second perspective may have helped me out. I never was one to go to anyone for help—usually I have those conversations with myself—but having a book to fall back on could have been useful.

For instance, there was a period of time where I really struggled with the fact that my friends and the people I cared about were going to move away and go to school while I still had one more year to graduate. I knew this was reality and I couldn't look past it. I never talked to anyone about that. Not until it started bothering me so much that it bled into other parts of my life. Eventually someone noticed.

The thing is, the exact same thing happens to Charlie, both in terms of not telling anyone about what's bothering him and he deals with everyone he cares about moving away. I'm not saying this book is like a how-to guide for surviving high school; what I am saying is that it's nice to know other people think the way you think and maybe you can learn something from them or at least find comfort in your joint suffering.

One idea that seems to be rattling around in Charlie's head is that he loves his family, yet doesn't really know them.

Then again, maybe my whole family has been high, and we just don't tell each other these things.

I find this to be a symptom of growing up. You start to realize that everyone else's lives are as intricate as yours and that a lot of what you know about them is skin deep. Peterson says you need an hour long conversation with someone once a week in order to maintain an intimate relationship. At the same time, I feel like I do the same things most weeks anyways. It never feels like things are changing but apparently they do.

I understand now why everyone always asks "How was school?", and I wish I was better at answering that question.

Love always,