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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Stephen Chbosky's 1999 debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a perfect window into the drama, drugs, and heart of what it is to ascend from adolescence to adulthood and to be stuck somewhere in between.
Perks is told through the eyes of a boy the reader comes to know as Charlie, and his correspondence to an unnamed individual, spanning the course of his freshmen year in high school.
The story opens on an emotional high note with Charlie retelling the story of his friend's successful suicide attempt and how it affected him. The reader learns that Charlie is very alienated from his class mates at school, and prefers to stand in the corner as a wallflower rather than take an active role in living life.
Throughout the course of the plot, the reader is introduced to Charlie's family, consisting of his father, mother, older brother, and sister, all of which remain unnamed. The reader is also introduced to his Aunt Helen, whose death prior to Charlie's freshmen year has contributed to have a big impact on his life.
Soon after the beginning of school, Charlie meets Sam and Patrick, half-siblings who introduce him to new music, new friends, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They are incredibly influential in Charlie's development as a character, bringing him to parties with their friends, introducing him to drugs, cigarettes, and what is means to lie “infinite.”
Although it is clear that Charlie has a very comfortable home life, he suffers from long bouts of depression and mental instability, largely in part because of the death of his Aunt Helen and which he blames himself.
An English teacher at school, named Bill, seems to take notice of Charlie from very early on. However, Bill allows Charlie to call him by his first name, gives Charlie special reading assignments, and even invites Charlie over to his house for lunch.
Music and literature play an incredibly important role in Perks, with Charlie listening to a wide variety of music including The Shins, Simon and Garfunkle, U2, Nirvana, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd.
Books also influence Charlie and how he views the world. Some of the literature he is introduced to via Bill include The Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and Naked Lunch, in order to further the parallels between himself and a 1999 Holden Caulfield.
Chbosky accomplishes something beautiful in his words, allowing the reader the ability to reach out and touch the hands of the characters. With the easy transitions from letter to letter, the voice of Charlie changes with the seasons and his maturity level, with prose that harkens back to JD Salinger and Tom Spanbuaer.
Truly, The Perks of Being a Wallflower affords the reader the ability to make new friends, learn life lessons, and to experience what it means to be “infinite” long after the last page is closed. It is a book that stops the reader breath just short, and stays with the reader's heart.