Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

So many books are called books that "define their generation" and truly "speak to the youth" of that aforesaid generation. These books explore the angst and the pressure that happen while growing up, navigating the waters of High School, and trying to find your place in the world. Coming of age stories speak to people of all ages. We've all been there, we've all felt those feelings.

The book that first showed me the power that those stories could have was, of course, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield, who by the way, thinks you're a phony (literary joke! Funny! No....? Just me...? K...) started something with his red hunting cap and angst. So many books are said to be written in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye. This book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my favorites.

First Lines:

"August 25, 1991

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don't try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don't want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don't want you to find me. I didn't enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.

I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn't try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist."

How about that for an opener? I've read this book three times now and I always find myself hooked as soon as I read the first line.

This book is about a boy named Charlie. He is starting High School tomorrow. He is nervous and needs someone to talk to. He is you and he is me.

What I find to be the most amazing thing about this book is how timeless Chbosky has made it and how easy he has made it for anyone to plug in their own friends' names and make it their own diary. Up front you know that although these are real people, they are fake names and are not meant to be discovered. Therefore, these are your friends, your family, they are all people you know. You know Charlie, or you are Charlie. This is brilliant.

Throughout his time in High School, Charlie make friends with a set of siblings named Sam (Samantha) and Patrick. Sam and Patrick are truly hipsters. Every Friday night, they are off to a showing of Rocky Horror and not only are they watching it, they are playing Janet and Frankenfurter. The two of them take Charlie under their wing and show him how to "participate" as Charlie says.

Another central character, and a great impact on Charlie's life is his English teacher, Bill. Bill sees the potential in Charlie that hardly nobody else sees. Because he sees this potential, Bill assigns Charlie extra reading assignments, books that are wonderful and classic, ranging from Naked Lunch to On the Road to Peter Pan. Watching how these books affect how Perks is going and how they shape and affect Charlie is such a wonderful subplot of this book. If you are familiar with the books Charlie is reading, the experience of THIS book becomes even richer. Props to you, Mr. Chbosky. Mad. Props.

"Bill gave me one book to read over the break. It's The Catcher in the Rye. It was Bill's favorite book when he was my age. He said it was the kind of book you made your own." 

Back a tangent to the element of the book being timeless. Seriously this is what keeps me coming back to this book. Yes I love the characters, yes I care deeply for Charlie, but the brilliance and subtlety of the writing draws me in time and time again. Within the book, the only other songs and books and movies named by name are classics. Everything else is merely described, letting you set your own life in the book, letting this book remain relevant for generations to come.

"Sam and Patrick drove me to the party that night, and I sat in the middle of Sam's pickup truck. Same loves her pickup truck because I think it reminds her of her dad. The feeling I had happened when Sam told Patrick to find a station on the radio. And he kept getting commercials. And commercials. And a really bad song about love that had the word "baby" in it. And then more commercials. And finally he found this really amazing song about this boy, and we all got quiet."

What these songs were to the author are never named but I can name at least ten different songs, each from a different time period, that are so "mainstream" and say "baby" every other word. I can also find just as many amazing songs about gentle boys, about sad boys, about you, that are from each generation that we let shape us and affect us. This happens all throughout the book. This is a book you make your own.

I've noticed lately as I've been reading books written very recently that for some reason we have it in our heads that in order for a book to be good and valued, it has to be extremely poetic and be riddled with metaphors and poetry. This book is not, and yet it is one of the most prolific books I have ever read. This book I know will stick with me, without all of the forced poetry. The writing is so easy, so normal, and so natural. Even though Charlie's brain has jumps and tangents and he writes how he thinks, I never get lost and I always want more. I recently had to stop reading a book because it was trying so hard to have symbolism and be cryptic and have meaning (BLARGH). This book has the poetry of life. The poetry of a living brain. It makes reality poetry. It's beautiful. (that was pretty poetic... nailed it.)

Here's an example:

"I guess what I'm saying is that this all feels very familiar. But it's not mine to be familiar about. I just knkow that another kid has felt this. This one time when it's peaceful outside, and you're seeing things move, and you don't want to, and everyone is asleep. And 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. And you know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing "unity.""

I was on GoodReads the other day looking for reviews of this book and I found one that made me very mad. Some girl said that she just couldn't stand the main character because he was so stupid and hard to understand. He repeated everything and made everything so obvious. UGH this book blah blah blah.

I DISAGREE. Charlie writes how he speaks and feels and you need to understand and feel for him. He is writing these letters to a stranger for a reason. He is extraordinarily sensitive without being pathetic. He is adorable without being a child. Respect him and hear him and you will love him as I do. He has the best friends in the world and his ability to understand people is hard to find in other books, or in life.

"When I was done reading the poem, everyone was quiet. A very sad quiet. But the amazing thing was that it wasn't a bad sad at all. It was just something that made everyone look around at each other and know that they were there. Sam and Patrick looked at me. And I looked at them. And I think they knew. Not anything specific really. They just knew. And I think that's all you can ever ask from a friend."

"...I just sat between them . After the song finished, I said something.

I feel infinite.

And Sam and Patrick looked at me like I said the greatest thing they ever heard. Because the song was great and because we all really paid attention to it. Five minutes of a lifetime were truly spent, and we felt young in a good way. I have since bought the record, and I would tell you what it was, but truthfully, it's not the same unless you're driving to your first real party, and you're sitting in the middle seat of a pickup with two nice people when it starts to rain."

I could literally quote this entire book to you and still not be able to feel like I'd fully explained how amazing this book is. Seriously. Go pick this book up and truly spend your time with this book. You will feel infinite, just like Charlie.

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I'd be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below; I'd love to hear them!