Wallflower is an interesting read, saturated in all of the heavy coming of age experiences that you might expect a teenager to be privy to. The central character is Charlie, who shares his high school life in the form of letters addressed to the reader (us) - an anonymous person known through a friend of a friend. It's an interesting concept that gives the book a realism and casualness that makes you believe Charlie is real kid.
I'm 27, and although the book is bound to be a more profound read for those in high school, I found myself constantly reflecting on my own stories and the people I grew up with. That's the charm in Wallflower. High school is messy, you don't really know who you are yet, but you're so eager to grow up. Charlie is an outcast, who's awkwardness is continually cringe worthy. He's also a bit too heavy on the crying, which I felt was a bit disingenuous the more it seemed to happen.
The story takes place in the early nineties, which I found refreshing considering the lack of Internet and cell phone drama. I remember going home after school and feeling separated from what was going on - that's not really the case anymore. The letters Charlie writes help to create a blunt recollection of events that he either doesn't understand yet or that he's contextualizing for the first time. He befriends a couple of high school seniors who essentially give him a crash course in growing up. I liked the fact that reading the book felt like you were in on the thought process - a kind of behind the scenes treatment to the actual story that was inspiring the letters.
There's also some pretty heavy (if not a bit stereotypical) themes in terms of how family life, suicide, sex, and drugs are all weaved into the mix. The fact that Charlie is so passive in how deals with them actually make these themes biting enough to seem fresh. Charlie is always striving to give things more meaning or value, but still couldn't seem to overcome his lack of social awareness. It actually served to make the book a bit more poetic while endearing us to Charlie's circumstance.
Overall, the book was kind of messy and scattered; an every-teenager story dotted with heavy plot points left with open ends. And I think that's fitting. High school in retrospect is a blur and there are key defining moments that we all use to give it meaning after the fact. Even in the small window of a year that Wallflower takes place in I think that's still true. In high school we spend so much time trying to find out who we are, what we want to do, where we want to be and go, that part of the experience is just embracing the confusion for the sake of trying to be happy in the midst of everything.
I'm glad high school is behind me, frankly. But, if you want to be taken on your own nostalgia trip The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great book to do it with.
On a side note, this book is also going to be released as a film in 2012 starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. I always love comparing books to the movies that follow them, and this one is going to provide some pretty interesting arcs if they can pull it off correctly. I'll have to write a follow-up in the new year.