On September the 26th, two up-and-coming movie stars — both already veterans of young adult novel-film adaptations — will be bringing Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower to life on the silver screen. They are Logan Lerman, who played Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and Emma Watson, who captured an entire generation’s hearts as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series of movies. In anticipation of Perks‘ box office opening this coming wednesday, we have decided that it’s an apt time to revisit this little gem that was first published in 1999.
What’s it all about?
“Sometimes, I read a book, and I think am the people in the book.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, set in the early 1990s, is written as a series of separate documents. Apparently, this is called an “epistolary novel.” Our protagonist — who calls himself “Charlie” to disguise his true identity — has anonymously written us a series of letters documenting his freshman year in high school. Think The Screwtape Letters but as a highly controversial coming of age novel.
Because of the first-person nature of the letters, we are treated to a first-hand look into Charlie’s own mind as he discovers sex, music, drug use, and experiences real friendship and love for the first time. I personally am not fond of first-person novels. They often can suffer from excessive introspection, fleshing out the main character’s thoughts and neglecting to develop other characters. I am pleased to report that The Perks of Being a Wallflower does not suffer from this problem at all. In fact, the very best ways we get to know Charlie don’t come from his own descriptions of himself, but rather through his responses and reactions to the people surrounding him. Charlie is a little bit awkward socially, but this is also what makes him adorably funny and unique. In spite of his different nature, it’s very easy to connect with him. As he experiences the lives of his best friends and family, he’s able to appreciate both the beauty and the vile in each circumstance he finds himself it. And it does get quite vile. At one point, Charlie even witnesses a rape. This is perhaps one of the reasons that Perks found itself becoming the 10th most challenged book on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most banned or challenged books of the 2000-2009 decade.
Who should read this book?
“It was the kind of kiss that made me know that I was never so happy in my whole life.”
• Fans of coming of age tales. Reading about someone’s first kiss or first date always whisks you back to your own.
• If you’ve ever felt socially awkward or like a wallflower.
• If you enjoy 80s-90s pop culture. The tone reminded me very much of the movie Reality Bites. You’ll find yourself smiling as Charlie shares the playlist on his mix tape.
So should you read the book before watching the movie, or is it the other way around?
“Maybe it’s good to put things in perspective, but sometimes, I think that the only perspective is to really be there.”
Well, we haven’t seen the movie yet, so we can only speculate. However, if you’re at all all worried about the book spoiling the movie, don’t be. As with any film adaptation, it is inevitable that some parts of the book will be left on the cutting room floor. That’s just the economics of movie storytelling. With this in mind, you can expect the book to serve as kind of a complimenting piece, allowing you to appreciate the film better, whether you read it before or after seeing the motion picture. Besides, it is unlikely that the characters will change in any major way between the movie and novel versions, since Stephen Chbosky himself is the movie’s scriptwriter
The Perks of Being a Wallflower makes a great book for the weekend because you can literally sit down in a coffee shop lounge chair and finish half the paperback in an afternoon. The grand plot twist/epiphany in the end leaves the reader very satisfyingly stunned.
At Fully Booked, we’re currently carrying three versions of the paperback.
Take your pick and happy reading!
By the way, we’ve got a film review of the movie. Read it here.