Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finished a Couple Weeks Ago: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

Finished a Couple Weeks Ago: The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, 1999, 0671027344.

Very entertaining and well written. A first person novel written as a series of letters by Charlie to an unknown person. Charlie remains mostly anonymous to the reader.

Charlie is a weird cat. At first I'm not sure what the deal is with the guy. Is he mentally retarded? Mentally ill? Autistic? He has trouble fitting in as a high school freshman and, as the novel's plugs say, Charlie "is standing on the fringes of life." Charlie is a seen as that "weird kid". Charlie pushes himself to participate more in school activities by attending dances and football games and at one game meets seniors Patrick and Sam. They think Charlie is funny and they become friends.

Charlie really takes to his new friends and opens up a lot throughout the rest of the school year. But, he is kinda clueless on how to act in social situations and through various references you find out he has had some depression problems and was hospitalized as a child. At one point Charlie is even hospitalized again for a month or so after suffering a breakdown.

Anyway, things happen: Charlie does recreational drugs and drinking, Patrick has problems with closeted gay boyfriend, Charlie pines for Sam (Samantha), Charlie dates other gal and really screws it up and fears he has lost his pals forever, Sam's boyfriend is a bed-hopping sleaze, Charlie's sister has an abusive boyfriend, Charlie's sister gets pregnant, Charlie shrink keeps trying to get Charlie to recall the sexual abuse he suffered from a favorite aunt, Charlie feels better and stops writing the letters and novel ends.

A lot happens here and the focus is on two main things. 1) Charlie growing and learning. Though Charlie may be socially clueless he is also, apparently, brilliant. Charlie does not recognize this in himself but other people, like his English teacher, do and address it to him. The sexual abuse Charlie endured came from a favorite aunt who lived with his family and sent an already fragile personality into some major trouble. Hints point to the aunt being sexually abused as well. (Not to mention Charlies mother who was physically abused.) You can see how the family trauma has really followed down through the mom and aunt to effect Charlie and his sister.

2) The importance of friends and friendship. Once Charlie makes friends he starts to realize how great life can feel and how much fun he can have. After humiliating his new girlfriend (also a friend of Patrick and Sam) Charlie is told to make himself scarce for a while. Charlie goes into a funk before things turn around again and later on even allows himself to be taken advantage of by a depressed Patrick.

A lot happens through the year and I'm not going to cover it all. Chbosky must have worked though a list of hot button topics: teen sex, teen drinking, teen drug use (marijuana and hallucinogens), teen homos, teen depression, teen suicide, physical abuse, teen pregnany and abortion, mental illness, and family discord.

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