Wow. This book pulls no punches. I don’t know how Stephen Chbosky crammed so much emotion into such a short novel.
The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
I definitely did not know what I was getting into with this book. I did not expect it to be so powerful.
Charlie was such a unique protagonist. Younger and shier than YA protagonists usually are, Charlie was undoubtably a wallflower, and I loved him for it. He started off the book innocent and naive, and it was painful to watch him lose his training wheels so quickly, and to realize that they’d never really been on. I liked that Chbosky wrote a character that was willing to cry (a lot), who felt emotions deeply, who cared about the injustices that his eyes were opened to. He wasn’t the perfect person–far from it–but he was the perfect protagonist for this story. Charlie was the type of character I couldn’t help but empathize with; I wanted to protect him, but at the same time, I wanted him to learn to stand on his own two feet.
The only part of Charlie that I didn’t love was his voice. Told as a series of letters, the book is at the mercy of Charlie’s youthful and inelegant writing style. While Chbosky was able to capture Charlie’s personality extremely well with this voice, it made actually reading the book somewhat annoying. I’m conflicted about this, because I want to reward skillful writing, but in this case, the skill resulted in the feeling of bad writing…AHH who knows. I still loved the book.
The other characters in this book were complex and realistic. I liked what each of them added to the story and how clearly you could see their influence reflected in Charlie’s personality. I wish that I’d read more of the books that Charlie and his teacher talked about, because I felt like I was missing subtle parts of the story.
The plot of this book is simple: Charlie trying to survive his freshman year of high school. He makes new friends, and has experiences with drugs, sex, and other hallmarks of high school. The plot provides an elegant structure for the real meat of the story: social commentary and discussions. This is the part of the book that really hits home. I was left thinking about the issues this book discussed for days after I finished it, unable to let go of the story. This book touches on so many issues our society faces today–LGBT rights, rape culture, abuse–and it talks about them with a powerfully plainspoken voice. The tone never feels judgemental or preachy. As an eyeopener, this book excels.
The ending of this book shocked me. I hadn’t seen it coming, though I’m sure if I reread it I will pick up subtle clues. It fit nicely with the rest of the book, avoiding the pitfall that so many twist endings make: straying so far from the rest of the book that it feels disconnected.
I have one major problem with the book, and that is that Charlie actually sent the letters. Can you imagine receiving these letters, days apart, not knowing who the boy who was pouring his soul out to you was? Charlie is seriously depressed at points in this book, and it honestly struck me as unfair and mean for him to put his problems on someone else without giving that person a chance to help. It might just be me and things I’ve gone through myself, but if someone had sent these letters to me, it would have destroyed me.
I just wish that that part of the plot had been addressed. I had convinced myself that the prologue would be a response from the guy, and when it wasn’t, I felt like a massive part of the story was ignored.
(Did anyone else have this problem? Please comment so we can discuss!)
I would recommend this book to anyone who is willing to have their emotions put through a rollercoaster ride for the sake of a powerful discussion of societal issues. This book is not an easy read. Even though it is short, it was an emotionally heavy read. I’m glad I finally read this book, and if you haven’t I would strongly encourage you to read it, even if it is outside of the genres you usually read.