I must confess, today is the first time I’ve ever read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Granted, it was on my to-do reading list since I was in high school, but I just never got around to it. When I heard that the movie was coming out, I immediately reserved the book from my closest library and I just got the book and finished reading it today. There were several quotes from the book that I’ve read before from other places that really left an impression even before I read the book. And as I read it, these quotes stuck out even more because now I know what context they are used in. (Warning: definitely contains spoilers)
I was looking at the photographs and I started thinking that there was a time when these weren’t memories.
I’ve only read it once so it’s not like I can really do a well-written analysis of the plot or the characters or anything. Maybe after I read it a couple more times. But I felt like I just had to blog about this book because that’s the kind of feeling I always get after I finish a book that really makes me think. After finishing, I always want to find someone to discuss with the themes or the events, the use of words, the symbols, etc. But my Chinese family isn’t really one that enjoys reading… especially English coming-of-age novels. So these are just some of my thoughts while reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Oh boy, now I feel like this is going to be one long post…
It’s like when you’re excited about a girl and you see a couple holding hands, and you feel so happy for them. And other times you see the same couple, and they make you so mad. And all you want is to feel happy for them because you know that if you do, then it means you’re happy, too.
I knew from the start that this is not a light novel and that the main character would be dealing with extreme examples of friendship, love, sex, family, and growing up. Maybe it was just the neutral and very observant way he told his story, but I found Charlie a likable and agreeable character. I didn’t find it too difficult to relate or like Charlie. He seems, above all else, kind… the quiet kind. Learning about Charlie and the type of person that he is reminds me of the quote, “Quiet people have the loudest minds” by Stephen Hawking. He has a long, detailed, yet understandable thinking process. The way he begins his story – through letters addressed to someone unknown – made me really see him in a loner light, as someone so desperate to have someone to talk to that he writes letters to a “friend” yet doesn’t want to reveal too much information about himself. But there were incidences where he sheds his wallflower image such as being the one to initiate a conversation between himself and Patrick at the football game, or non-hesitantly fighting a bully. It surprised me and I realized that Charlie is not an only passive, one-dimensional character.
You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand. You’re a wallflower.
Charlie, Sex, and Love
Sex and love were two very dominant themes throughout the novel. Charlie talks about how he witnessed sex as a child when his older brother held a party, but he acknowledges now that it was a rape since it was against the girl’s will. He also witnesses his older sister getting hit by her boyfriend, implying that she is involved in an abusive relationship. And most importantly… Aunt Helen. Charlie brings her up many times as a warm relative who took good care of him when he was younger, and whom he feels ultimately responsible for the death of when she dies in a car accident on his birthday. However, he recalls his suppressed memories of being molested by Aunt Helen every Saturday night during an intimate moment with Sam, Charlie’s female best friend whom he holds romantic feelings towards. All of these and others that I haven’t mentioned have distorted Charlie’s perception of love and ways to show love. Although he has a good idea of what is normally accepted as love, he was not surrounded by good demonstrations of romantic relationships. And at the end of the day, many of his personal issues are rooted from these experiences.
We accept the love we think we deserve.
Charlie and his family
I thought his family is pretty generic- siblings that fight and parents that are supportive. But a lot of things do happen inside his family alone. As previously mentioned, Aunt Helen violated him as a child but it’s also revealed that she had been sexually and physically abused in her own past. And Charlie’s quiet mother used to be physically abused as well and he links this to the reason she married his father, whom is not an abusive man. Charlie connects everybody’s pasts as the reason for pain. The idea that someone is hurt because the person who hurt them was hurt by someone else, and the cycle continues so that everyone is hurting. That stood out to me while I was reading. Something else that stood out to me was the part where Charlie talked about how his grandfather felt guilty about the things he couldn’t do for his children, and he never allowed himself to tell them. And something that I admired about Charlie was how he openly loves his family. Even in arguments where his sister tells him she hates him, he only says he loves her in return.
I am very interested and fascinated by how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.
Charlie, Sam, and Patrick
Charlie’s friendship with Sam really falls into the love category as well, but Charlie restrains himself from doing or feeling too much about her because he is scared of losing their friendship. Sam isn’t a character that I got to understand too well because Charlie kind of puts her on a pedestal and deems her unattainable. However, I can tell that she wants the best for Charlie and tries to help him become more socially active and participate in life. Sam has some issues too though, with a rumored promiscuous past and some back-story on her first kiss being with one of her father’s friends (and whatever implications those carry…). She is a mature character though and it shows on how she immediately leaves her older boyfriend, Craig, who is found to have cheated on her numerous times.
She wasn’t bitter. She was sad, though. But it was a hopeful kind of sad. The kind of sad that just takes time.
Charlie’s friendship with Patrick is a little less complicated as there are no romantic feelings involved directly between them. Patrick is laid out to be an easy-going and friendly sort of fellow which is how Charlie is able to muster up the courage to talk to him first. But Patrick is a homosexual with a partner who is ashamed to be. At one point things do not work out between him and his partner so Patrick is devastated. Charlie tries to be be there for him as the role of a good friend, and even does nothing when Patrick kisses him one night after drinking. Actually, Charlie is clearly new to the whole friendship thing so he is unsure of what to do to help his two friends when they are going through troubles. Often times he ends up being depressed and shutting himself in until Sam and Patrick contact him back. But it’s evident that he treasures the two of them very much as they are the first people to ever open up to him and gave him a sense of belonging after the suicide of his middle school friend.
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.
Charlie and adolescence
Charlie really grows as a person from the beginning to the end due to the people he is connected to through his first year of high school. Sam and Patrick open up his narrow world and introduce him to people and experiences (drugs and alcohol included). In the beginning, life through Charlie’s eyes resembled ones of a child’s. There was innocence. Which is ironic because he has undergone a fairly traumatic childhood. Charlie matures and becomes independent especially in the way he is able to keep secrets. Because he understands, he doesn’t tell anyone. He keeps his sister’s abortion a secret from his parents and his relationship with his older sister improves from this trust. Charlie is exposed to many dark sides of life, and I’m already surprised he’s not completely insane (although he is slightly mentally unstable at times).
Not everyone has a sob story, Charlie, and even if they do, it’s no excuse.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
My reading experience of this novel as a whole was one of discomfort. My discomfort mostly arises from just the content of the book itself: the events that happened, the other characters (major or minor). Everything feels raw to me in a sense and a bit too much. I mean these kinds of experiences are not exactly ones I’ve been fully exposed to, so I did feel slightly uncomfortable at times. Honestly I feel like I can talk about this book more and more. There are so many layers to this book but I would have to read it a couple more times to be able to uncover them.
All I can say is that I felt like crying the whole time I was reading with Charlie’s playlist playing in the background (courtesy of Youtube). And it’s not because it’s a sad book, even though technically it is kind of solemn. There was something crying out in my heart as I read about Charlie’s first high school experience: everything he saw, heard, and felt. I feel like this book holds a lot of truth. And maybe that’s why it feels so heavy.
I will most definitely be rereading this book. My head won’t stop thinking about what I just read.
It’s strange because sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book.
P.S. Then again, my blog format seems scarily similar to the book format…