It wasn't love at first read for The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I. In fact, when I first read it a few years ago, I didn't like it at all. I kept my copy of it buried in the back of my bookshelf, and forgot about it. It was only recently, when I cleaned out my shelves for the first time in awhile, that I remembered this book. I thought that I should probably try it again. And this time, I liked it!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower chronicles 15-year-old Charlie's first year of high school. He makes new friends, comes into his own as a teenager beginning to be independent, and deals with many tough experiences along the way. What sets this book apart from your typical coming of age novel is that Charlie isn't what one might describe as a "regular kid". He's extremely sensitive and gifted, and the issues that him and his friends grapple with are scary and all too true to life, including suicide, sexual abuse and trauma.
It's not an easy book, and a prospective reader should be prepared to be confused and frightened by some of the events of the story. Part of what makes the book so difficult is that we don't want to believe that the issues that these high schoolers are dealing with are a reality, but in fact, many of them are, even for teenagers. The characters are relatable, and lovable despite their faults. Charlie makes a good point when he says that "sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book." I can understand where he's coming from, although I'm not sure if I thought that I was the book's characters. Rather, the book's realism allowed me to feel that I was a friend, sitting silently by the characters and watching the story unfold. Wallflower is also beautifully written. Chbosky has a gift for language and for story, making this book a rare hybrid of a can't-put-downer and a serious novel. It reads like a poem--I love that.
Ultimately, Wallflower is scary and sad. But the writing is wonderful, and it's one of the best novels I've read in a long time. Just add this experience to the long list of reasons to give books a second chance. If I hadn't, I would definitely have missed out.
A note: I have not seen the movie. If anyone has, let me know how it stacks up in the comments--I'm curious!