The Book Report: The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of those that I wanted to read before the movie hit the big screen (in September this year, by the way). I searched every book shop for a few months trying to find one that had it for less than a tenner, because I was on a self-imposed book-buying ban, but thought that five euro might not be so bad. I did find it for five euro, second hand and in terrible condition. Eventually I broke down and bought it – and three other books… come on, we both knew it would happen – for full price. Because I paid that much for it I bumped it up my reading list and got stuck in.

I had been feasting on books of the same genre by John Green and he had said that Perks was one of the best books a young adult could read. With such a high commendation and with so many teens on Tumblr constantly praising the book, I couldn’t turn it down.

Perks is not what I expected.

To start with, the style is different to anything I’ve read before. There are no chapters. The entire book is made up of letters, from before the start of Charlie’s – the protagonist’s – freshman year in high school through to the following summer. Each is dated so the timeline is as clear as can be, and each one begins and ends with the same, “Dear friend… Love always, Charlie.” These letters are written to you.

***Spoilers follow***

Then there is the style in which Charlie writes. I took a break from reading Room, by Emma Donoghue, because it was hard reading an entire book from the point of view of a five year old. I have to say that Charlie sounds just a couple of years older, despite celebrating his fifteenth birthday during the book.

My first thought was that Charlie is autistic. The style, and how he reacts to things like girls and friendships, plus the fact that he’s a genius when it comes to his school work all pointed towards him being autistic. But the story went on too long, and Charlie was seeing too many doctors and therapists, and things freaked him out a bit too much for that to be the case.

***SERIOUSLY, GIANT CRAZY SPOILERS BELOW, just in case you didn’t believe the first warning.***

From about half way through the book you start to try and piece together why he is the way he is. Surely the death of his best friend before the start of term and the death of his aunt (who was his “favourite person in the whole world” when he was seven years old couldn’t be causing a fifteen/sixteen year old to be that naive, or that emotionally messed up to the point where he’s disconnecting himself from reality in a pretty messed up way.

It’s frustratingly close to the end when we find out that his aunt used to molest him. He attempts to have sex with his “one true love” but can’t, and he panics, and it’s like his body and his mind completely shut down. He sleeps and dreams that his aunt used to put her hand down his jeans when they watched TV on a Saturday. When he woke up he remembered that that was the truth, and he was admitted to a psychiatric unit for two months.

The End.

It’s a great twist, sure, it makes you think back over the rest of the book and try to see it all in a new light, and it’s really hard to do it. There’s something unsettling about your average coming of age novel complete with sex, alcohol, drugs and adventure, through the eyes of a severely mentally traumatised kid.

To top it off, a lot of it just seemed so unnatural. Can you really see a hot high school senior girl falling for the weedy, messed-up, freshman ‘freak’? Surely at the end of it all that would happen between them would be some awkward pity sex. And that’s only if she was unhinged enough to want it from a clearly mentally unhinged kid three years younger than her.

Or am I being cruel?

Despite all that it is an original twist on the standard YA content and for reasons I’m not quite sure of, I couldn’t stop reading it. It gets inside your head and makes you feel uneasy even after you’ve finished reading.

I counted the references to other media and literature made throughout the story which made me feel like I was supposed to have read/hear/watched them to really know what it meant. There were 16 books of which I have read two, 1 poem,  11 films, 5 TV shows, and 21 songs, eight of which I just about knew. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like not having knowledge of a source of a reference in a book, do yourself a favour and give this one a miss.

Final note: It makes me worry that Emma Watson, who has a major part in the movie adaption, has said that it’s a movie every teenager will be able to relate to. Unless every teenager has been molested by a family member and spends hours per week in therapy, I’ll have to disagree. Unless they’ve really messed it up.


One comment

  1. I think the comment about every teenager relating to something in the story refers to the experiences of Patrick, Sam, Mary Elizabeth, Charlie’s brother and his sister and even Brad; ie not just to Charlie’s experiences : )

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