The Perks of Being a Wallflower

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

perks

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my all-time favourite books, so when I heard that a film was being made based on it, I had very mixed feelings. And when I say “mixed”, I mean that I was primarily appalled whilst managing to also be slightly intrigued.

I am not going to talk too much about the film here, aside from to say that it was a good adaptation. I liked it. I am glad Chbosky directed it, but I do not think it was better than the book. I am, however, very grateful to the film for making kids interested in reading the book again.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel consisting of letters written by Charlie to an unknown person about his life. He writes to this person in particular because “she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have”: it becomes clear from very concise, short descriptions such as this one what sort of a person Charlie hopes exists in this capacity and, indeed, why this is important. Charlie is a kind, sensitive, likable kid who goes through a lot:  the novel deals with grief, suicide, mental illness, homophobia, drugs and sex in a serious, complicated, subtle way, without ever being so heavy that it’s other messages are lost; the ones about the about the hopefulness, awkwardness and joy of being alive, the connection of true friendship & being young and having everything to play for.

There are so many reasons why I love this book. The main one is probably how simply and eloquently it describes how it feels to be a teenager. I think that it is definitely the sort of book you should read for the first time when you’re about fifteen (although if you’re older than fifteen, I would still recommend it).

Charlie is a brilliant character; his struggles, whilst not shared by every teen, are I think universal in the sense that everyone feels awkward and shy and alone sometimes, even if they aren’t a “wallflower”. He makes mistakes, gets confused but ultimately grows up a lot in the novel, and you find yourself really rooting for him. The supporting characters are brilliant too. Patrick is especially vivid and I found myself wondering if everyone knows a Patrick growing up (I certainly did). I think his story is a particularly interesting one.

My favourite bits:

“If you listen to the song “Asleep,” and you think about those pretty weather days that make you remember things, and you think about the prettiest eyes you’ve known, and you cry, and the person holds you back, then I think you will see the photograph”.

“It’s kind of like when you look at yourself in the mirror and you say your name. And it gets to a point where none of it seems real. Well, sometimes, I can do that, but I don’t need an hour in front of a mirror. It just happens very fast, and things start to slip away. And I just open my eyes, and I see nothing. And then I start to breathe really hard trying to see something, but I can’t. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it scares me”.

“As we were approaching the tunnel, I listened to the music and thought about all the things that people have said to me over the past year. I thought about Bill telling me I was special. And my sister saying she loved me. And my mom, too. And even my dad and brother when I was in the hospital. I thought about Patrick calling me his friend. And I thought about Sam telling me to do things. To really be there.

But mostly, I was crying because I was suddenly very aware of the fact that it was me standing up in that tunnel with the wind over my face. Not caring if I saw downtown. Not even thinking about it. Because I was standing in the tunnel. And I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite”.

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2 thoughts on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  1. I always thought that this book (which I also loved growing up) was completely unadaptable, but it translated surprisingly well to the screen. Letting Chbosky direct it and really take his time with the script allowed him to develop the three leads into very well-rounded characters. He was also subtle in the way he handled Charlie’s battle with mental illness and his relationship with his aunt Helen, which another director could have easily blown up into something far more sensationalist.

    I hope lots of people go back and discover the book now.

  2. I totally agree with your views on the way Charlie’s mental illness and the aunt Helen storyline were dealt with in the film – this reflects, in a very effective way, the way the issues are handled in the book. I think my initial worry about the film was how such themes could possibly be dealt with in an equally subtle and sensitive way without losing their impact. Chbosky did a very good job indeed.

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