The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky
I must admit that this book came on my radar because of the film, but both book and film sounded right up my street so I thought I’d check it out. I was completely right – this is a very sweet story. I’ll start with my thoughts on the book.
Charlie is starting high school and as a coping mechanism he starts writing anonymous letters about his life to a stranger, as an alternative to keeping a diary. He documents his discovery of girls, drugs, music and sex but this isn’t a straightforward coming of age tale.
“My brother started saying how my sister was just a ‘bitchy dyke.’ Then, my mom told my brother to not use such language in front of me, which was strange considering I am probably the only one in the family with a friend who is gay…
‘Are you high?’
And again my mom asked my brother not to use such language in front of me, which was strange again because I think I’m the only person in my family who’s ever been high…Then again, maybe my whole family has been high, and we just don’t tell each other these things.”
Charlie is socially awkward and, we gradually realise, suffers from some form of depression and/or other psychological disorder. What it is is never stated outright but there are hints that things in his past have affected him badly. He begins as a thorough outsider but gets taken under the wing of brother and sister Sam and Patrick, who cheerfully embrace alternative culture, in the form of music, drugs and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Charlie is also “adopted” by a schoolteacher who gives him extra books to read.
There are a lot of characters who are damaged in some way, often having suffered horribly as young children, and it is one of the book’s strengths that it acknowledges that this has affected them without making it define them. It is in many ways a joyous book about the good times of being a teenager, and yet serious issues are tackled.
“I just know that another kid has felt this…all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people.”
There are lots of books, songs and films referenced; music in particular is key to the friendships depicted. Which lends itself very nicely to, say, a film soundtrack.
In the world of book-versus-film-adaptation, this is a bit of an unusual case. It’s Chbosky’s only novel to date; he seems to have carved a career as a film and TV writer. Indeed, he wrote the screenplay for and directed the film of this book. So it’s unsurprising that it’s a pretty faithful adaptation, with the same tone and the same key moments.
There are some differences. Some plot strands are necessarily jettisoned, which makes the film less nuanced (I’m thinking particularly of Charlie’s brother and sister here, who both had bigger roles in the book). When reading the book I thought there were hints that Charlie might be autistic to some degree, but there was no sign of that in the film. In the film I felt that the Rocky Horror Picture Show got much more emphasis than I’d expected, which reminded me a lot of Fame (indeed, the two have a few things in common and might make a good double bill).
Overall, I enjoyed both film and book. Neither is a classic but they’re certainly better than average and do a good job of balancing tough subjects with a happy, even optimistic, attitude to life.
Published 1999 by MTV Books.
Source: I bought this secondhand.
Challenges: This counts towards the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.