Book Review: Why ‘Perks’ Will Forever Have a Place in My Heart

61t67xhl2cl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Perks)

Author: Stephen Chbosky
Released: 1999
ISBN: 978-1847394071
Published by: Simon & Schuster UK (2009)
First sentence: “August 25, 1991 – Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.”

Mark for trigger warnings, because spoilers!!: [Mental illness, violence, homophobia, homophobic slurs, drugs, non-explicit sexual content, body image, several mentions of child molestation]

Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Perks is easily the most beautiful book I own. Not because of its cover – I’ve seen it too often to remember if I even like it. But it’s my most loved book, and you can tell. It’s been held by so many people and made to fit into so many bags and gone to so many places that it might just as well have been rolled over by a truck. Twice.

If you’re a person who loves their books as good as new: Sorry.

What I Loved

There are books that you read because you identify with something, and there are books you read solely for voyeuristic intentions. The first time I read it, Perks was both for me. 15 year old me was just fascinated with 15 year old Charlie, a highly intelligent boy dealing with the usual stress of teenagehood plus a lot more more. I could see myself in many of his struggles and was captivated by the rest.

I’ve read this novel so many times and still, I cannot exactly put a finger on what makes me come back everytime after I’ve put it aside. There’s too many things that I love.

Rocky Horror, coming of age, dealing with family and mental illness, school and friendship, the letters in which Charlie talks directly to the reader, his incredibly intelligent yet naive voice, the way his writing style changes im time with his character development, how you think this must’ve been the big twist but there are still things about the backstory you didn’t know, that there isn’t even a plot but you still cannot, just cannot, stop reading…

I wrote an 8 page paper on Perks for my graduation, got an A and still managed to not get sick of this damn book. Go figure.

What I Hated

That the author hasn’t published any other books.

I’m indefinitely romanticizing the shit out of this book and you can’t stop me.

Diversity

Honestly, for a book from the perspective of a 15 years old American boy, I would’ve expected much worse in terms of sexism and the like. In Charlie’s family everybody fits into their gender roles perfectly. As a part of his coming of age though, Charlie watches how people suffer under assigned gender roles and starts to question them. Still, the whole novel is written from a straight male gaze and Sam’s character gets close to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl status at times. This book isn’t perfect, but does great in my opinion.

Perks has two male gay characters from which one is a main character. From the very beginning though, Charlie is entirely unjudgemental against them and, despite still having the cishet male gaze, doesn’t seem bothered by it or seems to have any inherited hatred. Without spoiling too much I can say this: Others do. There’s violence against LGBT characters, and there’s some homophobia from other characters, even if it isn’t explicit in more than one scene.

LGBT+ rights and oppression are therefore a theme in this book which helped it land on several LGBT book lists. I mean, it isn’t the main theme, but there’s representation and that shouldn’t be ignored.

In terms of POC, it becomes difficult. Not one person in Perks is explicitly POC. Not. A single. One. This being said, nobody is described as explicitly white, either. Charlie states in the beginning that he changes all of his friends’ names in his letters, the last names aren’t mentioned. Appearances are only vaguely described. A few characters heavily indicate that they’re from a white middle class family, but nothing is set in stone. Some might call this carelessness, but as a white person I don’t see myself in a place to have an opinion about it.

There are also no characters with physical disability described. Mental illness, though, is a huge topic and affects several characters.

All in all

I can and will repeat myself here. Perks is a beautiful piece of art that’ll always have a place in my heart, no matter how much I outgrow Charlie’s age. No matter how old you are, it can and will teach you things about life and illness and friendship and everything that you didn’t know.

If you like coming of age stories and can deal with quite some heavy topics, GO READ THIS BOOK. RIGHT. NOW. I mean this even if you’ve read it before. A 90’s world full of mixtapes and unusual high school experiences awaits you, so what are you waiting for?

My Rating: 5/5

5

Kerstin

With how many koalas would you rate Perks? How do you like this format and what do you think I forgot to include? Any book recommendations for me? Please comment below!

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