"Sometimes, I read a book, and I think am the people in the book."- Chbosky

(Stephen Chbosky. Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999.)

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Coming-of-age stories have never been this real. Stephen Chbosky explores the darker side of growing up in his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.” (page 2)

The story is told from the point of view of the narrator and protagonist, Charlie, a brand new freshman in his town’s local high school. Charlie mentions that the names of the people in his life, including his own, have been either omitted or changed for his and their protection. He tells his brutally honest and heartfelt story through a series of letters sent to an anonymous recipient. The novel opens with several letters recounting the sudden suicide of Charlie’s friend Michael. Charlie, at the end of eighth grade, details the grief with which he is struck, and describes his interactions with counselors and his parents in coping with this tragedy. Shortly thereafter, Charlie enters high school and meets Patrick and his stepsister Sam, two seniors with whom he forms close friendships. Charlie soon goes from being an outcast to having a close group of friends upon whom he can depend. As the school year progresses, Charlie in brought into a world of sex, drugs, and self-discovery in an uncensored and intense account of his high school experiences.

“Maybe it's good to put things in perspective. Sometimes, I think that the only perspective is to really be there.” (page 212)

The format of the novel establishes a relationship between Charlie and the reader. Readers will find that this series of letters written by the narrator himself form a more personal story. Chbosky uses this method in order to go beyond a boy’s simple and continuous recollection of his past. Charlie tells readers his own story as it is unfolding and the letters are written as if he is writing directly to the reader. This draws the reader into the story. Readers may not know the real names of the Charlie’s friends and family, the geographical location in which Charlie resides, or the name and identity of the person to whom Charlie is writing, but readers are challenged to solely understand the souls behind the pseudonyms. Charlie is a character to whom readers can relate. He is caught between the naïveté of childhood and the experiential wisdom of being and adult; the painful time we call adolescence.

“And we kept dancing. It was the one time all day that I really wanted the clock to stop. And just be there for a long time.” (page 193)

Another unique quality of this novel is its timelessness. The dates are meticulously chosen by the author to reflect the story’s position within the school year. However, the issues Charlie encounters may be felt by adolescents of generations to come. All high school-age students in recent years can attest to dealing with (or knowing people who have dealt with) sex, drugs, self-discovery, homosexuality, the pains of young love, and the importance of family. Chbosky demonstrates, through Charlie, that these issues of adolescence and coming of age reach across many decades.

“Not everyone has a sob story, Charlie, and even if they do, it's no excuse.” (page 28)

While being controversial and brutally descriptive, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a novel that no young adult literature lover can do without. It gives teens an extreme and honest perspective on growing up and the outside forces which directly and/or indirectly effect it. Chbosky brings Charlie to life by pushing his provocative teenage issues to the forefront of his writing. This unbounded epistolary novel gives readers a view of personal and high school struggles from a dark and emotional, yet authentic and amusing point of view.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” (page 39)

Recommendations for teachers:
With this novel's many involvements in drugs, sex, homosexuality and rape it is recommended for more mature young adult readers. It is thought to be taught in upper high school. Teachers must make sure that their students are mature enough to handle the many controversies shown in this novel. This book, being on the Frequently Challenged book list, requires teachers to prepare their students for what is coming up next. It is not a challenging book to read in anyway; however, it gives a first person look to many topics that are not usually discussed in schools. To help develop your argument to your student and parents on teaching such "taboo" subjects read this article that outlines both sides of the debate.

"Perks" has many references to outside music and mixes that Charlie creates. This may be a great way for teachers to introduce the use of music in relating to books and movies they may watch in school. They could create their own mix that they believe that goes along with the book. Printing out lyrics, and writing a little response to each song could show their true understanding of the novel. Obviously music helped Charlie get through a lot of the hard times he was facing, it could be the same for your students.

Charlie writes his story based around letters he sends to an undisclosed reader. This could be a great introduction to a Writer's Notebook for students. They are then able to feel free and write whatever they would like, whether it be about what is going on in their lives, poems, anything that means something to them. This is not only a helpful way for students to open up, but to grow as writers and learn the revision process.

This novel also provides a great opportunity for teachers to start small group discussions. With all the controversial topics "Perks" talks about students could get together with people they don't know very well and talk about what they feel about these topics. It provides a great way in thinking of students working with others that are "different" from each other. Students may result in meeting new people and stop and think about what other students have been through before they judge them.

The result in teaching this novel in the classroom is to show students the value of people who are different than you. It could help students open up to one another about the issues they have going on in their own life. We all know that high school can be a tough time and if students can openly talk about their problems, it may make these years easier to deal with.

For your students who find comfort and identity in The Perks of being a Wallflower you might also want to suggest these books (included is their reviews) with similar themes and characters:
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Go Ask Alice written Anonymously
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why

About the author:
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Multi-genre writer Stephen Chbosky was born January 25, 1970 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Son to a CFO consultant and tax preparer, Stephen pursued a more artistic career with a screenwriting degree from University of Southern California in 1992. He managed to turn his degree into a career as a working writer. Chbosky's first film was 1995's The Four Corners of Nowhere, which he not only wrote but directed and acted in, was screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. One of his more commerical successes was his 2005 screenplay adaptation of the popular Broadway musical Rent. Chbosky made the move from film to television as co-creator, executive producer and writer on the CBS show Jericho which aired from 2006 - 2008. Chbosky currently resides in Los Angeles, California and his current project is finishing writing a screenplay (began in 2005) and directing a feature film length adaptation of his popular novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower.
While his screenwriting credits are impressive Chbosky is perhaps most well known to teenagers as the author of the still wildly popular novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower. This project began almost as an accident in 1994 when Chbosky was working on another book. The direction changed after he penned the line, "I guess that's just one of the perks of being a wallflower", and for the next several years Perks was crafted. The book is only semi-autobiographical, more in the emotion than specific events. MTV Books published a first round of Perks in 1999 and as of 2007 The New York Times reported that it had sold over 700,000 copies. Another work to check out if you liked Perks is Chbosky's other book, Pieces. Perks of Being a Wallflower made the American Library Association's list of top 10 most frequently challenged list since 2006. A film adaptation piloted by Chbosky himself is slated to be released in 2012 and will star Emma Watson (Harry Potter film series) as Sam and Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson & The Olympians) as Charlie.


From the book
"I had an amazing feeling when I finally held the tape in my hand. I just thought to myself that in the palm of my hand, there was this one tape that had all of these memories and feelings and great joy and sadness. Right there in the palm of my hand. And I thought about how many people loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs."- These are Charlie's eloquent words on the night he finished creating the "One Winter" mix tape (below) for Patrick. As I searched for these songs and made my own 21st century mix tape I thought of all of the fans of this book that searched for these songs after reading Chbosky's emotional novel trying to reconnected with Charlie, one more time. I thought about how our sources of music and of searching have changed since Simon and Garfunkel sat around creating these lyrics to when Chbosky created Charlie to the current audience of this book and no matter how the world changes the desire for Charlie's pen-pals to let his music wash over them and feel what he felt the night he became infinite, has and will not.

We see Charlie use literature as a source of escaping stressful times in his life and can judge how much he has grown by what new novel Bill assigns him. We watch a transition of Charlie from living in the world of his authors to allowing those novels to become a part of his own world. Below is Charlie's list of books that have become his favorite treasures in his heart and mind.

Charlie's List of Books
To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Separate Peace by John Knowels
The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Charlie's List of Movies/T.V.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Graduate
Harold and Maude
My Life as a Dog
The Dead Poet Society
The Unbelievable Truth
It's a Wonderful Life
The Producers
Hannah and Her Sisters
Saturday Night Live
Sesame Street

"When I was done reading the poem, everyone was quiet. A very sad quiet. But the amazing thing was that it wasn't a bad sad at all. It was just something that made everyone look around at each other and know that they were there. Sam and patrick looked at me. And I looked at them. And I think they knew. Not anything specific really. They just knew. And I think that's all you can ever ask from a friend."- Chbosky. The creators of the video below tried to create this same feeling by combining the poem Charlie is speaking of in this passage as well as his favorite song by The Smiths.

For those of you (like me) who have never been exposed to the shenanigans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and wondered just who these characters are that Charlie and his friends cherish so much, here is a theatrical trailer for the movie created in 1975.

Although Chbosky was not the original writer of Rent he did adapt this song (along with the rest of the film) which seem to express many similar views of Charlie's friends in Perks.

The Freshman by The Virbe Pipe. A song which lyrics not only allude to freshman year of high school but deals explicitly with suicide, abortion and drug use.

No matter what side of the "should it be taught" debate you are on, no one can ignore the effect that this book has had on it's readers young and old a like. Students all over the world have been experimenting with ways to reconnect with this novel and explore their new found realizations of the world. Below is a small collection of multimedia artwork by these fans that can be found on the web.
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External Links:

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower Movie - Check out the cast and more information on the rumored movie based on The Perks of Being a Wallflower directed by author Stephen Chbosky and said to be released in 2012!
  • Thread on Perks - For those who don't think quotes on the back of books and amazon reviews are enough to get people's honest opinions on a novel, Captain Cynic has created a thread allowing readers to express their true feelings on Chbosky's work. (Warning: there is some language on this page).
  • Intuitive Roots - A literary blog that has devoted it's most recent post to The Perks of Being A Wallflower and surrounding themes.
  • Banned Books - The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of 35 books being challenged by Fayetteville schools to be removed from their libraries. This includes the passages that are under attack.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Check out a similar book to Perks whose review was not included under teacher recommendations, a story of a boy who doesn't fit in trying to understand the way he views the world.
  • Banned Books: The Perks of Being a Wallflower -The blog world seems to LOVE Perks, Patricia a blogger and future librarian defends Perks from being banned.
  • M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen - One of Charlie's best moments is watching the final episode of M*A*S*H with his family. Here are facts, trivia, quotes and summaries of that last episode of the iconic show.
  • Lyric Interpretations - Fans of The Smiths discuss the lyrics of their song Asleep.
  • Survive Freshman Year- Wikihow gives tips on how to survive freshman year of high school.
  • Sexual Attraction and Orientation - Kids Health posted an article in hopes to help teens discover and better understand their own sexuality.
  • Fun Trivia - Test your knowledge of important scenes, characters, and quotes from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  • Shooting Stars Mag- Lauren from Shooting Stars Mag talks Perks with author Stephen Chbosky.
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline - It is evident that suicide is a main theme in Perks from an actual suicide, to poetry, to song lyrics. Charlie seems to be drawn to this melancholy and he finds comfort in the ability to talk to his faceless and nameless "friend" but for those who haven't yet found a healthy lifeline to help them cope Nation Suicide Prevention has created a helpline for those in need. Find out more on their website.

-- Cassey Stank, Bethany Powers, Julia Holdsworth, Shawn Czerkis