The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, authored by Stephen Chbosky, often compared with J.D. Salinger's "coming of age" novel The Catcher in the Rye, is a modern and perhaps an ameliorated version of Salinger's rebellious masterpiece. Stephen Chbosky admits taking huge inspiration from Salinger's work. They both captured the angst-driven, tumultuous period of adolescence but "The Perks", published in 1999, gets along with a very different set of problems the teenagers find so relatable. And adults become nostalgic revisiting the time they left behind.
The book is written in an epistolary format. Charlie, the fifteen-year-old protagonist, a wallflower yet observant, writes letters for a year to an undisclosed person mentioned as "friend" with whom he shares his experiences of high school and personal life. It is assumed that the "friend" is actually the reader of this book. The very first entry in this novel is on 25th August, 1991. His letters always started with "Dear friend" and ended with "Love always, Charlie". At the beginning of the novel, he was grappling with two traumatic deaths occurred in his past. The recent one happened in last spring when Charlie's only friend Michael from middle school commits suicide although he was already grief-stricken by his beloved aunt Helen's death as she died in a car crash on his seventh birthday. Charlie says he is nervous about starting high school.
As high school begins, Charlie finds acceptance from his English teacher Bill Anderson who assigns him to read extra books and write essays on them, which Charlie delightfully does over the year. He befriends two seniors: Patrick and his step-sister Sam. Charlie develops a crush on Sam and when he admits this, Sam treats him affectionately. They integrate Charlie into a group of other seniors and he gradually begins to come out of his shell. He enjoys going to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and even performs the role Rocky, which was supposed to be played by Sam's boyfriend. Later on, at a party, upon suddenly encountering Patrick and Brad kissing, Charlie finds out Patrick was gay. Unbothered by the abrupt revelation, Charlie keeps it a secret as per Patrick's request. However, as the story goes on, his family life gets far more complicated. His sister becomes pregnant by her boyfriend and decides to have an abortion. Charlie stands by her side and keeps it a secret from their parents.
His aunt Helen used to get beaten up by her husband and he always felt sorry for her. Meanwhile, Charlie gets to date Mary Elizabeth, a senior from the group. But he always felt more connected with Sam. That leads to their break up in a messy way that it hampers Charlie's friendship with Sam. When Patrick gets beaten up by some football team members, Charlie jumps in and breaks up the fight, earning Sam's respect and the two becomes good friends again. By the time, Sam gets selected for Penn State's summer program. Before leaving, Sam and Charlie have a close physical contact which dredges up repressed memories of Aunt Helen sexually molesting him as a child. In an epilogue, Charlie says he has forgiven Aunt Helen. After spending two months in hospital, he writes the "friend" this might be his last letter as he is trying to "participate" more. He assures he will be fine.
A noteworthy aspect of the book is: its frequent references to classic literary works, pop songs and movies, which, according to the author, attributes to the notion that music, movies and books are what define the teenagers best. And like the most of us, Charlie loves The Smiths. He loves talking about fine music, enjoys making mixtapes and equally loves rereading his favourite books.
The book frankly deals with sensitive issues regarding sexual abuse, suicide, drugs, abortion. Therefore, it has been banned or challenged in many American high schools since 2002. It was the most challenged book back in 2009. But the truth is, adolescence includes these issues and excluding them is more like denying the truth. That's why; "The Perks" is still a favourite among young readers.
The reviewer is a 2nd year student of Economics department, University of Dhaka