Charlie is the misfit of his family. His older siblings, a football star who has gone on to play for Penn State and a socially popular sister, have seemingly made a success of their high school careers. Charlie has had a more difficult time. The death of his maternal aunt has had a huge impact on his life and his mental stability. Despite having to deal with the death of a close loved one and the things he’s seen as a result of having older siblings, Charlie is painfully naive. At the same time, his intuition is good. He runs into a stroke of luck when he becomes friends with Patrick and his half-sister Sam. These unlikely friendships provide Charlie with a larger, much more experienced social group. They become the framework through which he comes to terms with his past and embraces his future.
If there was one section of this book that spoke to me of my own adolescents and made me want to take Charlie in my arms for a long hug, it was the Secret Santa. Being a newbie to this group of friends, the Secret Santa meant so much to him. He took pains to select just the right things and his desire to please his friends was not necessarily returned. You feel like such a fool when something like that happens. You’re exposed as if you have played all of your cards. I know I did. One year that I spent all of my money buying gifts for each of the girls in my circle of friends. Unfortunately, if I got anything from most of the girls, it was a candy cane. The disappointment isn’t about not getting anything in return. It is just a hard way to learn that your feelings are not returned.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower contains course language, sexual content, drug use, and violence toward women, but these very adult topics are not glamorized. You see how miserable the older sister or friend is when she is mistreated. You see how drugs have paralyzed people’s lives. You see how everyone’s heart can be broken, be they hetero or homosexual. While reading this novel it’s pretty clear that the worst thing you can do is to repeatedly make the same mistakes, never learning from them or coming to terms with yourself. Just because you’ve fallen in a trap doesn’t mean you are stuck there. I understand the concerns around this novel. Read the book. It opens the door to a great deal of conversation. If only you’re ready, you can learn a lot about where your children are emotionally. If you’re open, they might just learn a lot about you, too.
I purchased this novel after it was removed from the library of William Byrd High School in Vinton, VA. I would personally like to thank disgruntled parent, Mr. John Davis, for bringing this novel to my attention. This book was for me what The Catcher in the Rye never was. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the conversation it fostered with me and some of my best friends. I can only imagine how this book might impact me if I were closer to my adolescent years. Young adult novels do not have to be benign or puritanical to be appropriate. So much is happening emotionally during high school and fiction is one of the safest environments in which to explore new feelings and ideas. I think we ought to give teenagers more credit when it comes to comprehending and responding to fiction. This is definitely one challenged book that I would challenge you to read.