The Wallflower May Wither, but the Spirit is Infinite

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky
Published in New York by MTV Books (1999)

external image C_0671027344.jpg

In "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", an atypical high school freshman named Charlie writes about his experiences as a boy in the background. The entire book is written as a collection of letters addressed to an anonymous friend. Throughout the novel, Charlie wears his heart on his sleeve. We follow his achievements, observations, pain, and love throughout his series of letters. Charlie writes to this anonymous "older" friend "because [they] listen and understand" (Chbosky, 2). He makes it obvious that he is an outcast, and lonely. He doesn't have too many people willing to listen to his thoughts, emotions and feelings. Charlie thinks that this person, "of all people would understand that because [he thinks] [they] of all people are alive and appreciate what that means" (Chbosky, 2). The mystery surrounding the receiver of the letters, creates a growing desire in the reader to discover who this mysterious "friend" is.

Throughout this series of letters to the unknown person, we are taken back to what it's like to "grow-up" among sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We experience with Charlie the joys of high school and the crazy parties. We also experience the harshness of the world and personal identity; finding out who we are and where we fit in the world. The book reflects on topics that teenagers in the U.S. and perhaps throughout the world, could relate to. This isn't a book about feelings, love, or any other singularity; this book is encompasses all of those things, describing life and the struggles that we go through as we grow up. Charlie summarizes the core of the book in two simple sentences, "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." The rawness and reality of this book will keep the reader intrigued, allow room for discussion and analysis and encourage the reader to think critically about a variety of topics that have pertinence to their own lives.

Recommendations for Teacher
There are many issues relevant to teens that anyone teaching this book in the classroom could discuss.
While there are a few questionable scenes in the book, an older high school student would be more likely to have the maturity necessary to read and analyze the content of the book. "Perks of Being a Wallflower" has honesty that kids will relate to.

Some of the recurring themes, ideas, and issues include (but are not limited to):
-peer pressure
-fears relevant to teens
-the awkwardness of adolescence.

This book would provide a great opportunity for teachers to gain insight into the life of their students, and for students to be vulnerable and real with their peers. In order to have a meaningful discussion, the teacher must ensure that all students are comfortable, feel safe, and trust their peers and teacher. Classroom dynamic will play a huge role in the successful teaching of this piece.

While this book appeals to instructors because it certainly plays a role in addressing the themes and ideas listed above and provides ample opportunity for discussion, the content is also very appealing to the reader and is sure to capture students' attention. It doesn't sugar coat the life that today's teens live, but instead portrays the good with the bad. This book does teens justice, developing characters that have true-to-life feelings, with which many students will be able to relate to and understand. This is not the kind of book that a teacher is going to have to push students to read. Once they get started they won't be able to put it down.

Because of the nature of the topics of this book, it will probably be challenged by many parents/guardians. We would suggest discussing your thoughts about teaching this book with your administrators and fellow faculty members. If you have specific policies in place, you should adhere to those and if you do not, you might be more comfortable with sending a letter home with your students to parents, outlining your direction and intent for studying the book.

About Stephen Chbosky

external image 12579.jpgStephen Chbosky was born on January 25, 1970 and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He later attended the University of Southern California, where he graduated from the Filmic Writing Program. His name may sound familiar from hit TV shows such as "Jericho". His first film, The Four Corners of Nowhere, was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It later went on to win Best Narrative Feature honors at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

This multi-talented movie writer, director, and author keeps a pretty low profile; but while his personal information is publicly limited, appreciation for his work certainly is not. Perks of Being a Wallflower is Chbosky's first novel. He is currently working on a film version of this highly praised, MTV publish and promoted book. The screenplay for Rent (2005) is another one of Chbosky's famous works. One might notice similarities between the thematic elements of "Perks" and Rent; the issue of homosexuality is certainly present in both works. Chbosky has placed homosexuality under a lens through which observers can perhaps see view the reality of such a major issue in today's society with a more open-minded perspective. Chbosky is a liberal Democrat who promotes positive consideration of such issues.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)
Ed Blank Interviews Chbosky Chbosky's reaction to criticism regarding "Perks" and the decision to classify it as member of the YA genre.
Marty Beckerman Interviews Chbosky Hear what the author has to say about his works.
Short clip based on the book - Students from a Creative Writing class made this short video based on a part of a the book.

A You Tube Trailer for "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Executive Producers (Including Chbosky) Discuss TV Series Jericho

Additional Resources:
IMDB Review Read the review of the movie version of this book.
Marty Beckerman's Interview, Text Format This is the written format of the previous interview listed.
Introversion and Extroversion This is an informational link for parents with teens who are introverted, like Charlie.
Perks of Being a Wallflower Quiz Find out which "Perks " character you represent by taking this short quiz.
Word Riot on Stephen Chbosky This website provides information on the author, including an extensive interview with him.
Discuss the Book A discussion board where avid readers can discuss Chbosky and the book.
Many Definitions of Wallflower Besides the typical definition, find out what other definitions the word "wallflower" has.
Quote the Book A colorful list of important quotes from the book.
What Does Charlie Mean? A historical look at the meaning behind the name.
Rent Screenplay Read from Chbosky's popular transcript of "Rent".
Information, Photos and Trivia About the author.


Side Two of Charlie's Mix Tape, "One Winter":
  1. Asleep - The Smiths
  2. Vapour Trail - Ride
  3. Scarborough Fair - Simon & Garfunkel
  4. A Winter Shade Of Pale - Procol Harum
  5. Time Of No Reply - Nick Drake
  6. Dear Prudence - The Beatles
  7. Gypsy - Suzanne Vega
  8. Nights In White Satin - The Moody Blues
  9. Daydream - The Smashing Pumpkins
  10. Dusk - Genesis
  11. MLK - U2
  12. Blackbird - The Beatles
  13. Landslide - Fleetwood Mac
  14. Asleep - The Smiths

Movies Charlie Watched:
  1. The Graduate
  2. Harold & Maude
  3. My Life As A Dog
  4. Dead Poets Society
  5. The Unbelievable Truth

Charlie's Favorite Books:
1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
2.Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
3. The Stranger by Albert Camus
4. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
6. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
10. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare
11. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
12. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Some Important Quotes
  • "It's strange because sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book."
  • "We accept the love we think we deserve."
  • "I feel infinite."
  • "I have decided that maybe I want to write when I grow up. I just don't know what I would write."
  • "I am very interested and fascinated by how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other."
  • "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."
  • "...and for the first time in my life, I understand the end of that poem. And I never wanted to. You have to believe me."
  • "I feel great! I really mean it. I have to remember this for the next time I'm having a terrible week."

--Other Reviews by Allie Chandler, Christie Coddington, Dan Kyle, Shaynon Munn, & Ashley Wright:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie