The Perks of Being a Wallflower- An Adolescent Cult Classic

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wall Flower. New York, NY: MTV Books, 1999.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an invitation into 15 year old Charlie’s world through his collection of letters to an anonymous friend. Through these passages, we are thrown into a brutally honest account of a teenager’s first year of high school created by author Stephen Chbosky. The novel is both provocative and controversial, but has obtained quite the cult following over the years for it’s accurate portrayal of the new experiences, obstacles, relationships, and driving with your friends, listening to the perfect song and feeling infinite.

“I have since bought the record, and I would tell you what it was, but truthfully, it’s not the same unless you’re driving to your first real party, and you’re sitting in the middle seat of a pickup with two nice people when it starts to rain,” –pg. 33

Charlie is a book-smart, curious and incredibly passionate kid who really tries hard to see the best in people, even if it means getting a little too emotionally attached. He starts writing these letters in order to cope with a close friend of his committing suicide. Between his home life, with his parents and older siblings, dealing with the death of a beloved aunt, and meeting new friends in high school, Charlie is forced into various degrees of experiences way beyond his apparent maturity level. His friends, including Sam, whom he is in love with, introduce him to good music, drugs, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the unveiling bonds that he would take with him long after they all graduated.

“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,”-pg. 66

Charlie’s best friends are Sam and Patrick and the experiences they share together are up to par with a lot of typical American teenagers. The book includes various concepts such as suicide, masturbation, abortion, drugs, sex, and rock and roll which makes this novel not only enticing for the dramatic factor, but also incredibly raw and honest. Between domestic and psychological abuse also comes an account of a first love, a true friendship, and the exciting yet terrifying aspects of growing up. The language is humorously relevant and readers alike not only believe Charlie’s story, but are able to bond with his writing as well as the context. Charlie is a true wallflower, like so many other high school students, only expressing himself in the written word for millions of readers to appreciate.
“But because things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody,”-pg. 145

Recommendations for Teachers
Masturbation, drug use, abortion, and language are interwoven into the plot of Perks; however, they are included in a way that is purposeful and meaningful. The book utilizes “hallway talk” in order to allow Charlie’s inner flow of feelings to be heard through the book’s pages. While parents may see the content as inappropriate for their students, these issues are not new for many of their children. While Perks is seen as controversial, it does have value in the classroom, especially for underclassmen who can most effectively relate to Charlie and his experiences. Its message is somewhat lost as students become Juniors and Seniors, having already cemented their place in the realm of high school. We recommend that at the very least you have the support of your department and administration before teaching this book in a classroom setting. In order to avoid any further potential conflict, a permission slip sent home to parents stating the value and importance of the book may alleviate some concerns surrounding the unit for teachers. Additionally, those “negative” components of the book should be handled with care and delicacy.

We recommend that small and large group discussion be used in order to tackle the subject matter that falls between the pages of the book. Students come from all walks of life and environments and the experiences they bring to the table are just as diverse. By creating a safe and welcoming environment where personal opinion and questioning is encourages, students will be able to actively and safely discuss with peers. Then by bringing the discussion back to the entire group, a variety of opinions will have already been considered in a smaller setting where shy students felt more comfortable, possibly making them more apt to contribute to the classroom. Discussion questions from the publisher for the book are located in the first link below under “Additional Resources.”

“Dear Friends” letters are another good option whether used as a simple journal entry or the assessment for the text with students using their own life as context; however, as a formative assessment, students can write letters from different character’s perspectives throughout the book in order to consider that character’s thoughts or feelings. For example, we get Charlie’s thoughts surrounding his interest in Sam, but what does Sam think about the whole situation? When Charlie begins hanging out with Patrick more, we feel and know about his confusion, but what did Patrick believe was going on?

More “outside the box” thinking may have the teacher require students to become wallflowers themselves, sitting and observing people (i.e. the traditional people-watcher), and then journaling their experiences. This may prove to be a more eye-opening experience for students as high school is so focused on who they are hanging out with, what people think, and what is in vogue at the time. By watching people’s reactions, body language, and attitudebefore and after interactions with peers and other people, they see that there is an actual person underneath the exterior. This simple life lesson has real world implications and may be an extremely worthwhile lesson for underclassmen as they begin their time in high school. This project takes the message of the book and moves it from the English classroom into the hallways, and hopefully out the doors of high school into the student’s everyday life.

About Name of Author

Pennsylvania native Stephen Chbosky graduated from the University of Southern California in 1992 with a degree in screenwriting. Chbosky has writing, directed, and starred in various films and has been invited to the coveted Sundance Film Festival. Chbosky is also credited as editor of an anthology of short stories titles Pieces and also has writing and producing credits for television shows such as Jericho and movies such as the 2005 film adaptation of Rent. He began writing The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 1994 and it was published in 1999 by MTV Books. Since its release, the controversial book has been widely read by adolescents across the country. Chbosky has been names to write and direct the film adaptation of the book due for release in 2012. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

From fan made videos expressing key parts of the book to an entertainment news story describing the upcoming movie version, these videos help to understand how important The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been and will continue to be. The utilization of the songs mentioned in the book such as Asleep by the Smiths is an excellent way to have students appreciate the mood Charlie and his friends were feeling when they felt "infinite." The powerful poem used in the book that discussed teen depression and suicide has also been added into a video and makes for a powerful statement.

Additional Resources:
Discussion Questions for //Perks// -This site provides great examples of discussion and journal questions to be used in a classroom.
Quintessential Quotables -An enticing list of quotes pulled from the novel.
//Perks// Lesson Plans - Examples of lesson plans that can be used when teaching Perks
Teen Suicide Prevention -A great site dedicated to the prevention of teen suicide; a common theme in the novel. The site provides warning signs and how to get help.
2011 Fifty Book Project -This site tells how a teacher uses Perks as part of a summer reading project.
Kids' Right to Read Project -This site gives advise on how to deal with the controversy surrounding the book in the classroom.
//Perks// Playlist -A great site that provides the "soundtrack" for the book. So many teens identify well with music and this site makes that easier.
Teen Angst Poetry - Poetry written by "angsty" teens.
National Youth Advocacy Coalition -This site deals with LGBT teens and the many issues they are faced with.
The Power of //Perks//: Personal Relevance -Another site dealing with important quotes from the book.
Troubled Teen 101 - How to help troubled teens.

--Elizabeth Edwards
--Cameron Kuiper
--Samantha Slankard

This literature circle has also reviewed //The Book Thief// and //Jake, Reinvented//