“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” Book Review

Karyna Hetman

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming of age story following the life of the protagonist, Charlie, as he navigates his way through his first year of high school. It touches on relevant issues high schoolers face as well as more difficult topics through a light hearted yet suspenseful story. 

The story is told through letters by Charlie, written to a “dear friend” who he dares not disclose. In these letters, Charlie reveals some sadness from his past such as his friend committing suicide, his aunt, who he was close to, dying in a car accident, and rough times dealing with his trauma. Because of this, Charlie starts high school without friends, but soon forms a special bond with his English teacher, who tells him he would like to see him participate more, not just in class, but more importantly, in life. Charlie then finds two friends that are seniors, Sam and Patrick, and adventures through his first year in high school with them, participating like his teacher had told him to. In between writing about fun events going on in his life with friends, Charlie reveals dark anecdotes about family secrets. The reader notices that Charlie goes through difficulty with his emotions, but the big surprise that answers the question of why Charlie reacts the way he does is not revealed until the end. 

I watched the movie adaptation prior to reading the book, and I found the book much more insightful than the movie. It made me rethink my position on the argument of whether books or movie adaptations are better. In the book I got to read Charlie’s deep thoughts and analysis of scenes I was familiar with from the movie. Reading the book was like watching the movie from a different perspective in that I was seeing through Charlie’s eyes and mind rather than viewing the scenes as an outsider. When I watched the movie I was confused on what was eating Charlie up inside and how his past trauma affected him. Reading the book gave me answers to those questions as I could better understand the emotions Charlie was feeling, which I couldn’t obtain from just reading his face. In an experiment conducted in 2006 to test the correlation on whether reading fiction makes people more empathetic, Kieth Oatley says “people who read more fiction were better at empathy and understanding others.” I found the book to back this finding as I gained more insight and awareness on mental illness. The story exemplifies how past trauma can affect people, and since Charlie never told anyone about what he went through as a child, no one understood why he acted the way he did at times. This taught me that it’s tricky to judge someone based on their actions as we don’t know what emotions caused a person to act in the way they did. 

The author did a great job in making this coming of age book relatable for high schoolers while also dealing with deeper issues such as childhood trauma and mental illness. The book was entertaining throughout as the reader almost cheers on Charlie when navigating his way through freshman year. It was also suspenseful as it takes the reader through the ups and downs of Charlie’s emotions and unravels the mystery of his past. The ending opened up a can of worms as we finally get closure on Charlie’s situation and feel deeper empathy for him. This story puts a twist on the coming of age genre as it deals with more than just relatable teen drama but also brings forth the conversation of many uncomfortable topics. It shows that opening up is not easy, as Charlie does not reveal his big secret until the last few pages of the book. In conclusion, The Perks of Being a Wallflower illustrates the complexity of individuals in that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.