The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen ChboskyGuest Reviewer: Donna Smith

Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV Books (1999)
Number of Pages: 213
How long it took me to read: 3 days
Where I bought this book: My daughter gave me the book.
ISBN: 978-0-671-02734-6

Like a Moth to a Flame

My daughter read the book and loved it. She passed it around to many of her friends and recently reread it to prepare for the upcoming movie. I was happy she wanted to share it with me, too.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “I think it’s nice for stars to do interviews to make us think they are just like us, but to tell you the truth, I get the feeling that it’s all a big lie.” (p.15)

4. “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” (p.211)

3. “‘Do you always think this much, Charlie?’
‘Is that bad?’ I just wanted someone to tell me the truth.
‘Not necessarily. It’s just that sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.’ ” (p.24)

2. “I feel great! I really mean it. I have to remember this for the next time I’m having a terrible week. Have you ever done that? You feel really bad, and then it goes away, and you don’t know why. I try to remind myself when I feel great like this that there will be another terrible week coming someday, so I should store up as many great details as I can, so during the next terrible week, I can remember those details and believe that I’ll feel great again.” (p.103)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Charlie likes this quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and so do I. ‘I would die for you. But I won’t live for you.’ ” (p.169)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: wallflower (noun)

Definition (Source: a person who from shyness or unpopularity doesn’t participate in social activity
Synonyms: introvert
Origins (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary): 1570s; flowering plant cultivated in gardens; from wall (n.) + flower (n.); colloquial sense of woman who sits by the wall at parties, often for want of a partner is first recorded 1820
As in: “He’s a wallflower.” (p.37)

New Word: corpulent (adjective)

Definition (Source: having a large bulky body
Synonyms: obese
Origins: Middle English; from Latin ‘corpulentus’; from ‘corpus’
As in: “And my Aunt Helen was ‘corpulent.’ ” (p.16)

New Word: auspicious (adjective)

Definition (Source: showing or suggesting that future success is likely
Synonyms: promising
Origins (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary): 1590s; of good omen (implied in auspiciously); from Latin ‘auspicium’ divination by observing the flight of birds; from ‘auspex’ (gen. auspicis) + -ous
As in: “It seems like a rather ‘auspicious’ beginning.” (p.86)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“Aw. Remember those sweet high school years? Well as I’m reading the beginning of this book, I’m finding it depressing. It’s stuffed with teenage angst and Charlie’s head is cluttered with a multitude of uncertainties. It stirs up uncomfortable memories of my hellish bus rides to school, the anxiety of sitting alone at lunchtime, and the humiliation of gym class (not all of us are super athletes). I attended high school when MTV played only music; John Hughes movies were popular, bright clothing abounded, and the Rubik’s cube frustrated and intrigued us. I made it through the tearful and joyful times with a little help from my friends but that doesn’t mean that reading about someone else going through them is easy.”

“The story unfolds through a series of letters Charlie writes to an unknown friend. Each letter is dated, the first one starting on August 25, 1991. I think I start liking the book when I get to September 7, 1991, which is Charlie’s first day of high school. Charlie proves he can defend himself against a bully by beating him up. I don’t condone violent behavior, but I have to admit I’m rooting for Charlie, probably because I can relate to him. I too was quiet and shy in school. I discovered that people mistake a demure, pensive person as being weak and easy to push around.

“Over time, I learned that just because you don’t say a lot doesn’t mean you don’t have strength, intelligence or guts. You can be an observer and a participant. It’s the balance of the two that gives a person a good compass for how to adjust to change. And after all, the whole world doesn’t need to know every detail of your existence. I respect Charlie. It’s obvious that something bad happened to him, but he doesn’t broadcast it. A magazine article I read recently actually addressed this issue, discussing how the benefits of curbing the need to divulge all of your personal information may not always be the best thing for you. I agree; some things should remain private.”

Charlie’s lucky to have a teacher who encourages him to read. His teacher recommends classics like, To Kill a Mockingbird, Peter Pan, The Great Gatsby, and, The Catcher in the Rye. Out of the eleven books Bill gives Charlie, I’ve read six. One book I’ve never read is Kerouac’s On the Road. I almost bought it, but decided against it. I needed a book for an article I was writing, so I went to the bookstore. While I was there, I saw On the Road, picked it up, and read the back cover. I flipped through the pages and saw there were no chapters or breaks in the text. I put it back; I wasn’t sure I had the patience to delve into it. I left with my research book instead.”

“Charlie is an updated version of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I also find Charlie reminiscent of characters from my favorite books: Judy Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret and Paula Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. These books all deal with the same theme found in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I think I understand why it speaks to the younger generation even though it’s set in a time before most of them were born. The struggles Charlie and his friends encounter are timeless. There’s more to living than drinking, drugs, and sex. Some of the perks are reading a good book, listening to great music, driving with the windows down, cloudy days, dancing, thought provoking conversations, and a skyline of lights at night. One of my favorite things to do when I was Charlie’s age was to go to the boardwalk in the summer. The flashing lights, the smell of caramel popcorn, the sound of the rolling ocean, and the sea breeze tousling my hair all made me feel infinite.”

“It’s refreshing to read a book where the parents are portrayed to realistically handle situations they know about. Chbosky illustrates how not everything is perfect in families or relationships with friends. After all, every family has that embarrassing relative who’s too loud, drinks too much, or says inappropriate things. But if you’re really fortunate, you have family members whom you can rely on, unlike friends who’ll support you but who can get distracted by their own problems and forget about you for a while. Charlie finds this out during his interactions with Patrick and Sam. But he also learns that although friendships have many ups and downs, friends are invaluable. They offer you a shared history, separate from your experiences with your family. They come together sort of like a ball of rubber bands: they can be annoying, reliable, and flexible all at the same time.”

“It’s eerie that Charlie’s brother goes to Penn State, because that’s where a child molestation scandal was recently exposed. Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach, was convicted of sexually abusing ten boys. The book was published in 1998. Strange coincidence.”

“I want to tell Charlie high school is only a small part of his journey. He needs to know the direction he takes in life depends on his determination to move forward and to only look back when it’s necessary. To participate in life is to learn how to let go of things and feelings that can make you immobile and to open yourself up to new possibilities. You don’t always have to be a wallflower. You can learn to dance.”

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1 Comment

  1. Teta Bombardieri says:

    Full of very wise observations …

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