9.18.2012

Book Review: the Perks of Being a Wallflower


I impulse bought this book on Saturday while at Target. I read it in about 3 hours. Now, I'm normally a fast reader, but that strikes even me as a bit ridiculous. It's not a very long book and it's a very quick read. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower would have been a book I loved in high school -- right alongside John Lydon's Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. That is, I would have outgrown that love. I still love Catcher in the Rye in the nostalgic sense, but I'm not quite as narcissistic as my high school self, so I don't identify with Holden anymore. And my Sex Pistols phase has long fizzled out, but I still think John Lydon is silly, charming, and a bit embarrassing -- when I see him on TV, I feel like one of his grandkids and I can't help but wish he'd put a shirt on and sit down. If I had read Perks in high school, I think the same thing would have happened: I would have identified with Charlie's inability to fully participate in life (using literature as a stand-in for experience) and connect to people, his groping social awkwardness, and his sadly honest personality. 

Eventually, though, I would have grown out of it. I'm not 16 anymore and I don't harbor any of the same illusions about myself or the world. I don't identify with Charlie today -- I'm 23, cynical, and sad in a different way these days -- but I know I would have when I was younger. I think that's the fundamental disconnect for me about this book: it's not necessarily universal in the way other books are.


Beyond that, I found the book very rushed. Like I said, it's a quick read -- mainly because the passages skip days, weeks, months at a time. One moment, it's Easter, and the next everyone is graduating. How did that happen? The ending itself seems like a neat little knot... that isn't really that neat. Charlie goes from feeling happy for his friends who have graduated to suddenly realizing that his beloved aunt molested him and then goes into a mental hospital because of it? It seems like a cliche of mental health -- Stephen Chbosky seems to gather every mental health pamphlet in existence and check off the little boxes, while throwing in bits of Lifetime movies, all having everything happen within days of each other. That's not really how mental illnesses work and they aren't quite as neat and clean cut as Charlie's appears. It really bothers me that this happens so quickly and there is no real indication of it throughout the book -- yes, Charlie is a bit "weird" by traditional standards, but not everyone who is weird has some tragic history and/or mental illness and not everyone who has a tragic history and/or mental illness is weird. Why couldn't Charlie just be a weird kid? It almost seemed like Chbosky had to justify his strange character to other people -- Charlie's charm existed on it's own, when he was being polite and honest... not when he was suddenly a sad, tragic character. 

I also want to bring attention to something really silly that is repeated throughout the book: the "infinite" idea. Can I tell you how silly I found this? Charlie, sitting in a pick up truck, says, "I feel infinite." And it's the deepest thing ever, apparently. There is that moment at the beginning of the book and then, at the end, he references the times they were "infinite" -- that's it. What does that even mean? To me, none of the friendships or storylines throughout the book seemed all that spectacular or special -- I would prefer the book be about a weird kid with shockingly ordinary friends with ordinary high school problems, but the "infinite" theme seems to want to twist them into something they're not. I'm not sure that's necessary in a book that is about, well, high school. Why does it have to made into something so deep, poetic, and melodramatic? I realize it's from a high school perspective, but at the same time, an adult wrote this book -- so Chbosky could have added more interesting elements to suggest that the way we perceive things in high school are not necessarily the way they really are, which would have made a much more interesting book. 


After finishing the book, I did a bit of Googling and realized it was published by, basically, MTV. Since when did MTV publish books? Suddenly, it all made sense. The Perks of Being a Wallflower falls neatly into the typical MTV landscape. It's hyper-dramatic and obsessed with pop culture references (that are now hilariously outdated). It's pop literature. There's nothing wrong with pop literature -- it is what it is and I can see why they would make a movie out of it. But it is almost too poppy and melodramatic to be something anyone can learn a lot from.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an easy read: perfect for a car trip, lying outside (on the last days of summer), or cuddly up inside with tea (on the early days of Fall). It doesn't make you think hard about anything and it's enjoyable. If you read it, read it for its place in pop culture -- not because it's one of the "greats."


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Thank you for reading my blog! :]
xo Michelle

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