The Perks of Being the Dear Reader

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

Dear Friend,

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a novel that is cut from the common fabric of young adult literature. In this epistolary novel, our narrator covers topics ranging from things as silly as mix-tapes and masturbation to ones deeply saturated with social severity. We meet Charlie as he enters a world of drugs, sex, alcohol and dating. Certainly the suicide his best friend Michael, the rape he witnesses at his older brother’s party, the physical abuse he sees his sister receive from her boyfriend, the drug use of his friends, the fact that one of his best friends is gay and the memories of being molested as a young boy are all quite heavy topics. Like I said, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not your average teenage story; however, don’t let the subject matter scare you. Be assured that Chbosky has written his first and only novel to date with an honesty and beauty that will keep you and your students turning the pages.
Our fifteen-year-old narrator never tells us to whom his letters are addressed, and we never find out the real names of his friends--Sam, Patrick, Bill, Bob, Alice, Mary Elizabeth and the rest are all aliases--because he doesn’t want the recipient to find out who he is, or who his friends are. His letters are personal, moving and thought provoking, and apparently written to an older person, someone that “didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though [they] could have” (pg. 2). Charlie’s voice immediately draws the reader into his story; he is innocent and eloquent, brilliant and naïve, funny and foolish and extremely easy to relate to. Charlie takes us on an eloquent two hundred and thirteen page journey of the tragedy and hilarity of growing up in today’s culture. We follow Charlie as he copes with heartbroken friends and family, personal past demons and his ever-nagging fear of loneliness and depression. Charlie is a wallflower seeing and hearing everything and trying to figure out what to do with it all. As Charlie writes, “I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be” (pg. 2) which is exactly what he does throughout The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Love Always,

Recommendations for Teachers
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that deals with issues that most, if not all, high school students will encounter during their lives. In this respect it is one of the more moving and influential pieces of young adult literature on library bookshelves. This is also a great book to get students to look at their world from a different viewpoint. The style of the writing is such that it gives them a somewhat objective look at their world. Charlie provides us with a unique and disarming voice that informs us that he both accepts his world as it is and also passes judgment on it when necessary.
Although Charlie’s letters are always sent with good intentions, they bring students into contact with issues that are usually shied away from by most high school teachers, such as suicide, homosexual relationships, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse and addiction. The book deals with these issues quite tastefully and almost innocently, but they do present the opportunity for parental backlash and awkward classroom conversations. It may be advisable to send some type of permission slip or notice home to the parents forewarning them of the content that their children might be dealing with.
As a teacher you will have to guide class discussions regarding these topics so that they do not become inappropriate or unproductive. However, it is quite possible that the benefits of teaching this book could drastically outweigh the challenges. Students will be give a realistic view into the life of another young adult like themselves, and they will see that, unlike the infamous ending of Charlie’s favorite poem, there are other alternatives to dealing with the hard problems life throws at them.

About Stephen Chbosky
chbosky.jpgStephen Chbosky grew up in St. Clair, Pennsylvania (1). Throughout his career he has been a screenwriter, film director, and most notably a novelist. The work he is best known for is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. (2) In regards to this book Chbosky says that he wrote it for very personal reasons, and relates to Charlie on many levels but says that the character is only semi-autobiographical (3). Chbosky also didn’t intend for The Perks to be specifically a young adult novel. But since the book meets many of the criteria for the genre many people have placed it there. This could help explain why wrote about content that often times is meant for adult readers (4). In an interview he lamented over the fact that it was so often challenged and censored by various people (4).

  1. Blank, Ed. "Movie musical brings dream to life for screenwriter", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2005-11-22.
  3. Beisch, Ann. "Interview with Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower", LA Youth

The Perks Of Being A WALLFLOWER - The Smiths, ASLEEP.
A video of the poem from the book, set to the music of The Smiths.

An interview with the executive producers of Jericho (including Stephen Chbosky).

Listen to Podcasts Featuring Perks of Being a Wallflower

Our podcast of Perks:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower.mp3

Additional Resources:

--Jonathan Giarmo, Alex Karpike, Laura Baltazar