Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: About the Book

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Written by Stephen Chbosky
224 pages
The film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is due out sometime this year. It stars Logan Lehrman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam and Ezra Miller as Patrick and is directed by Chbosky from his own screenplay. Production has wrapped but we have yet to see a trailer.

About the book:
The publisher's blurb calls the book "a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up."
It did take me back; I remember being an outsider, an observer, in high school. It's not always easy to find one's way. Charlie has a tougher time than most of us.
He's a high school freshman with a wounded psyche - his best friend has just killed himself - who takes us through his life in a series of letters he addresses to "Dear Friend" even though this is someone he has never met.
We see this somewhat shy guy meet a couple of seniors who take him under their wing and show him the ropes. The brother, Patrick,  and his sister, Sam introduce Charlie to a whole new world - it's sex, drugs and rock n' roll of course, but it's also The Rocky Horror Picture Show, homosexuality, homophobia, sex abuse, date rape and bigotry. And figuring out who one is through all of that.
Charlie is supposed to be a writer. He's in an AP English class and quite pleased that his teacher spends so much time encouraging him and helping him develop with a more advanced reading list than the other kids. What bothered me was how very basic Charlie's own writing was- the letters, the book, it's all Charlie's voice and it's quite simplistic and not advanced at all.
That confused me, because I didn't see the budding genius writer in the words on the page but I wondered if Chbosky did that intentionally. Was the writing so simple because WHAT he was writing about is certainly not? The book covered difficult, emotionally challenging and controversial issues and maybe that was enough?
I have since learned that this book, while extremely popular with teenagers, is not so much with some of their parents. It caused quite the firestorm in some schools where it was on the reading list. Some parents were so unhappy, they removed their kids from the school! And frankly, I can understand the concern. I felt a little squeamish when I was reading the book, and wondered about the age appropriateness of it. But the truth is, kids have and will continue to read the book. They have curious minds and that's a good thing. It's topical, the issues are important. Since it's so simply written, it's a super fast read so I think it's a good idea for parents with kids this age to read it. Because even if they haven't read it themselves, they've heard about it, they've talked about it with their friends. Seems like it would be a good starting point for an honest heart to heart about some tough issues. I don't know if ALL those issues had to be in one book, part of one kid's story,  and I do wish the writing had been a bit more sophisticated, but it is what it is.
I'm curious to see how the movie handles it all. Rated R, it's being directed by Chbosky himself so that the teens it's intended for will have to see it with an adult. I admit it, if my son were still 15 or 16, I would not be comfortable seeing it with him. It seems too intimate a tale and I think he would feel the same way.  Knowing him he would find an older friend or relative to take him. But I know we could talk about it. Ah the joys of parenting. We all want to keep our children innocent. The reality is we don't live in an innocent world.
What do you think? Did you or your kids read this book? Any thoughts?

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