Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review - The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower is a relatively old book by bookseller standards, but still one that can massively impact on readers today. The author, Stephen Chbosky, wrote the book as a series of letters from the pseudonymous 'Charlie' to the person known only as 'friend'. Charlie is is starting high school, a freshman, too smart for his own good but by all accounts socially inept. While it's not officially stated in the book, Charlie could count all the people he spoke to on a daily occurrence with one hand; only one of these goes to his school: his sister. So, things are a little bit desperate for Charlie, and as far as teenage socialising goes you wouldn't want to look at Charlie at the start of the book to see how to do things "right". But early on things take a twist, and a couple of seniors in the school take Charlie under their wing. We can presume they realised he had no friends, which affected their decision to keep him around, but it is also clear that they see friendship material in the young freshman; what happens after this encounter changes Charlie's life in a fantastic tale of love, friendship, parties, music, books and the discovery of regular conventions of human life that become part of the wallflower's life.

(Side note: a wallflower, in terms of a social status, is someone who knows how to listen and how to keep quiet about what they hear so that people can't directly relate experiences Charlie retells to his addressee 'friend' to the real people he writes about.)

So, what made you buy this book?
Well, I was browsing for books similar to John Green's Paper Towns and this one popped up, over and over again, on a number of sites online. I looked into the book, and decided to go out on a limb and buy it. I did not regret my choice. It definitely is something for John Green fans to consider! Charming, funny, easy enough to read, somewhat heartbreaking, it has the elements of a Green novel (including new experiences in school and lots of driving!) that so many people love.

How did it compare to Green's books in terms of quality?
In terms of humour, this isn't as good. There are less laugh-out-loud moments in the book than Green exposes us to, but there is a certain warmth to be found in the reality of the people Chbosky writes about. There always seemed to me to be a certain exaggerated (albeit delightful) quality to some of Green's characters that, while adding a wonderful thrill to the reader's understanding of them, Chbosky downplays, making his book seem somewhat more realistic. And in terms of content, Chbosky certainly covers a lot more issues in this book than Green does in his, though I do find that the effect of Green's books is that the underlying messages are driven in very deeply without being forced upon you (relaxing narrative, use of humour, etc. all being helpful in making sure the reader is not overwhelmed by Green's philosophies of life that he passes on in his literature).

What exactly does Chbosky deal with?
A number of issues, ranging from sex, homosexuality, first dates, drugs, high school, friendship, love, literature, music, depression and domestic violence. Though that is a somewhat blown-out-of-proportion list.

Is it recommended?
For fans of John Green - definitely. (Also fans of authors in the same bracket of wonderful literature, like Maureen Johnson and David Levithan.) For everyone else... pretty much definitely, too. It's a coming-of-age novel that reads more maturely than you'd expect, and deals with a range of issues and emotions that anyone and everyone can appreciate in a good book. Not just for the socially awkward, either!

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