The Perks of Being a Reader

Stephen Chbosky, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (1999).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows closely in the traditions of young adult literature. It is an epistolary novel in that its form is a collection of letters written by the protagonist, Charlie, over a one year period - his first year of High School. The intended recipient of the letters is never mentioned, but it is alluded to that the person on the other end is older, wiser and more mature than Charlie. As the story unfolds, the reader is drawn in. The story touches on a turbulent time in any young adults life, with situations and dialog clips which resemble conversations many young adults may have had, or do have in their lives. The connection between Charlie and the reader becomes so intimate, that the reader soon believes they are the ones to whom Charlie is writing. Charlie also makes it clear in his first letter that he does not want the recipient to know who he is, but alludes to the fact that they have a mutual acquaintance ("Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand, and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party" pg1). He urges the recipient not to try to discover who their mutual acquaintance is or who Charlie is, and states that he will also be changing the names of all of the people in his book to make himself as anonymous as possible.

The story is a classic bildungsroman, or a coming of age story. Charlie is easy to relate to for most youths for several reasons; he is experiencing grief from severe loss, starting his first year in high school, is struggling to find his place in the world, and he is very open about what he is dealing with his feelings. Charlie is somewhat of an outsider, or as the title suggests, a wallflower- a smart, quiet kid who starts out with no friends and winds up in a bit of a rough (however nice and accepting of him) crowd that introduces him to all of these new experiences. Along with all of the new situations brought on by school and friends. Charlie deals with issues at home, including witnessing his sister being the victim of domestic abuse, and experiencing the grief of his best friend Michael committing suicide. During the year covered by the book, Charlie is introduced to what is, to him, an entirely new sub-culture filled with drugs, alcohol, music, movies, sex, dating... and much more.

As Charlie's first year of high school unfolds through the letters he writes, the reader is drawn in as they relate to his experiences. Although they are events that many teenagers must deal with today, they are of a graphic nature. The style in which the book is written allows it to speak to all types of teenagers, regardless of whether or not they have experienced many of the sorts of things Charlie is experiencing. The journey becomes familiar and so easy to relate to, the reader begins to feel as if they were the ones the letters were written to. We welcome the journey Charlie takes us on as if editing the "mixed tape" of his emotional life. His emotional soundtrack is one that relates to the tapestry of teenage life.

Recommendations for Teachers
It is important to be mindful of the situations found within the novel; being told from the first person perspective, the text is powerful in it's ability to relate to the reader. The book touches on many controversial topics including teen suicide, sex, drug use, rape, domestic abuse and homosexuality. It might be wise to mention this up-front to your administration, parents, and students before assigning the book so that there are no shocks or surprises, perhaps even sending flyer's home if necessary. The book is listed as a 4th grade reading level, but due to some of the content material, this book is probably not appropriate for students younger than 9th grade. The book has in fact, been banned in many schools, and was on the American Library Association's list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books in 2006.

It is possible for teachers to use this novel as an introductory novel, and as a way to involve students in the semester reading sooner rather than later. The reading level as before mentioned, is not very high, and therefore would not be a challenging first read. The subject matter is very close to home for a lot of young adults in today's world, and therefore may provide a framework, or other ways for teachers to get to know their pupils better sooner; learning about the culture of the particular batch of students, their interests, etc. This may help in long term benefits for both teachers and students; students may be more apt to participate openly in class because they may feel that they have more to contribute about subjects they are becoming familiar or are familiar with.

The novel may be used as a means to get students involved in writing and/or critical pedagogy. It is difficult for many students to delve into critical analysis, and until the teacher has a feel for the ability of the students, The Perks of Being a Wallflower may provide a basis for beginning writing and other projects. Many project ideas could stem from the social problems and situations found in the book, such as rape awareness, stances on domestic violence, homosexuality and bullying.
Example project ideas:
-Multi-genre writing
-Research topics
-Experiments in creative writing

About Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky was born on January 25th, 1970 in Upper St. Claire, Pennsylvania (the same state in which The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes place). He graduated in 1992 from the screenwriting program at the University of Southern California. Before writing The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky wrote, directed and filmed an independent movie titled The Four Corners of Nowhere in 1995. Chbosky has had his hand in many other projects following the success of his first novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, including the screenplay for the movie adaptation of the musical RENT in 2005. In 2006, Chobsky served as the writer, executive producer and co-creator of a series on CBS called Jericho, which only lasted one season on the air before being canceled by the network; Jericho is set to return to the air in 2008 for a second season after a successful revival campaign led by the show's fans.
[all biographical information is taken from wikipedia's page on Stephen Chbosky]


The Perks of Being a Wallflower/Asleep - The Smiths
A conceptual video including one of the songs that is very important to Charlie in the book ("Asleep" by The Smiths) and images that relate to some of the themes from of the book.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower trailer
A fictional trailer for a non-existent movie adaptation of the book. This video is a high school project created by a group of girls. It includes quotes/dialogue from the book as well as an original song also made up of lines from the book.

Works of Fiction Read or Mentioned by Charlie
To Kill a Mockingbird
Peter Pan
This Side of Paradise
Naked Lunch

On the Road
The Stranger novel
The Stranger short story
The Fountainhead
The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby

Films Mentioned in the Book
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Producers
The Graduate
Harold & Maude
Night of the Living Dead
My Life as a Dog
Dead Poets Society
The Unbelievable Truth

Quotable Quotes
--Well, there are rules you follow here not because you want to but because you have to. You get it? (22).
--I didn’t know that other people thought things about me. I didn’t know they looked (38).
--Patrick actually used to be popular before Sam bought him some good music (43).
--Sometimes, I looked at my parents now and wonder what happened to make them the way they are (52).
--Do you enjoy the holidays with your family?... I do. There are several reasons for this. First, I am very fascinated by how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other. Second, the fights are always the same (56).
--I really think everyone should have watercolors, magnetic poetry, and a harmonica (64).
--And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t (74).
--I just wanted to know what to buy my dad because I love him. And I don’t know him. And he doesn’t like to talk about things like that (77).
--And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. And you know that if you looked ate these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing, ‘unity’ (96).
--I just kind of put my feelings away somewhere after that… When I explained to my father why, he told me to act like a man (134).
--I wanted to laugh. Or maybe get mad. Or maybe shrug at how strange everyone was, especially me (154).
--It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? (200).
--I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to be who I really am. And I’m going to figure out what that is (202).
--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.
We accept the love we think we deserve.
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite (39).

Additional Resources:

-Jeremy Battaglia, Krysta Beedon, Cassandra Pickett, and Jamie Ringelberg