Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbovsky

Really, really enjoyed this. An intelligent and witty coming of age story that's full of charm and emotion- not a desperate teen-aged emotion, like you might expect, but an intelligent emotion that sort of acknowledges the immortality of youth, but also the briefness of it.

The narrator, Charlie, is a little obsessed with the concept of memory and time, worrying whether these are his glory days and he isn't noticing it, and if he'll tell his kids stories about his past. He worries that his kids will see pictures of his youth and think he looked happier at their age than they feel now. Charlie seems too to understand the complexities of life, feelings and relationships, whilst also being quite bad at conducting them. He sees things that others don't, he's painfully honest, socially awkward and inexperienced, but incredibly intelligent and aware of everything. He's also the best gift giver since Santa Claus, stunning his friends to silence with his incredibly personal and thoughtful presents.

The narrative is told through a collection of letters addressed to somebody that Charlie knows that we don't. He claims that he's chosen this person to write to because "she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have." The letters are his way of understanding what's happening in his life and dealing with his unusual moods and his over-sensitivity. He talks about the tragic deaths of his friend Michael and his much loved aunt, events which affected him a great deal and continue to govern his occasionally erratic behaviour. Though we later find out something about one of these people that has probably caused more of Charlie's problems than he initially reveals. We follow his struggles to cope with adolescence; sex, drugs, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, homosexuality, domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy, abortion and rape.  It sounds a lot of "issues" for such a short book, but it handles them in a characteristically straightforward, if slightly bemused way.  Whilst it's pretty safe to assume the average teenager won't have experienced the entire plethora of issues detailed in the book, most will have probably have had some experience with some of them, either directly or through friends.  It's pretty easy to relate to the experience of Charlie' even if your adolescence was less eventful. Though it may sound disproportionately grim, Chbovsky captures some beautiful moments in the story. The sense of possibility and promise that comes with being 16, the feeling of being infinite- finding the books and the songs and the films that will be the soundtrack to your life and wanting to live in and remember every moment.

I think that was one of the most successful things in the book, and something that I'm sure the majority of readers can relate to- the way the author acknowledges that families are messy. A lot of the time they have nothing in common besides a handful of genetic material. But families are strong, and despite the agonies and the arguments, tears and overwhelming urge to strangle stuff, families do care for each other and will pull together when they need to.

More in the vein of SE Hinton's The Outsiders than Catcher in the Rye, though parallels obviously exist. It's more about learning to be yourself, to realise what it is that makes you unique and to deal with being unusual then it is about being unhappy or disillusioned, or being a moaning little rich boy like Holden.

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