As a child, I remember wanting to grow up so I could do anything I wanted, wear what I wanted and just be free to do anything. I know we all had that moment where being a grown up was very attractive. Well, now I am grown and the process has been sweet and painful at the same time, I can say that growing up can be hard. Sometimes I look at little kids and get envious at the fact that they seem not to have any worries. This mixed feeling of growing up was stirred in me again when I read Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Charlie, the protagonist shares his deep concerns, feelings of doubts, fears and joys to a friend through letters. The story shows a young boy coming of age and trying to find himself in a very large world. The letter opens by Charlie telling his friend (who is not named in any of the letters) that his friend Michael (Charlie’s friend) had just committed suicide. The news took Charlie by surprise because Michael didn’t look like he had that much of a problem that would lead him to kill himself. This opens our eyes as readers to how people still grapple with mental health issues and ultimately make bad decisions. The book is divided into parts and each part is a movement into deeper levels of maturity and more complications till we get to the bitter sweet ending.
Charlie has a wonderful family that supports him and loves him but they are not without their own problems. His father though not overly open to showing emotions but through his actions wants the best for his family. Charlie’s mum plays the role of a mother well and Charlie’s older siblings do take on the role of being older quite well except that Charlie and his sister do have occasional fights but it is clear that they both care for each other deeply.
What makes this book a great read is that Charlie is a young boy who most times can’t make sense of his feelings or who he is. The adolescent/teen years is a time of discovery and at that time, they are at crossroads as to how to choose careers, handle family conflicts, relationships and handle feelings of insecurity.
Charlie meets two friends who are older (Sam and Patrick) and this friendship becomes a spring board for Charlie to begin to take a more active role in life. His teacher, Bill, introduces him to books and encourages him to start writing. Bill as a teacher understood that Charlie was exceptional and became not just a teacher but a friend. Through writing and reading, Charlie comes out of his shell and with Sam and Patrick, he is able to face school better.
The theme of friendship is evident as the author shows that life can’t be lived well if you don’t have someone to go along with you to help and comfort you. Bill is an example of a teacher who encouraged his student to be the best he could be. Charlie was constantly affirmed by his teacher and this helped him build confidence.
Other issues like drugs, sex, abuse were also the things that Charlie had to deal with. His innocence was so intriguing that he couldn’t decipher that he was witnessing a rape. He was so innocent that he couldn’t lie about his feelings even when it looked like lying would have been a ‘wiser’ decision but he stuck with what he felt was right. This action caused him his first relationship but it was kind of a deliverance for him because he didn’t really like the girl so much (Mary Elizabeth).
Since his friends were older than he was, they exposed him to parties and drugs and this had an effect on him too. Drugs was a way of escape but it could not hide the deep feeling of emptiness that he felt especially since he kept mentioning the death of his aunt Helen as having affected him. She seemed like the only one who understood him and he even blamed himself for her death. She died on her way back home after she had gone to purchase a birthday gift for him. His birthday was a day before christmas and aunt Helen made sure to get him two gifts.
He saw music as a way of escape too. He would make mixed tapes for people as gifts and was very thoughtful about others even at the expense of his own comfort. Charlie is like every adolescent that struggles with maintaining friendships, peer influences and identity crisis. All of these make the story an interesting read. The language is so beautifully written and it is like you are kept in the mind of a 15-year old.
Sadly, we are more drawn or made aware of Charlie’s mental illness towards the end. More sad is when we discover that the aunt Helen who he truly loved was sexually molesting him. He even wasn’t aware of that as being the root problem. Though he was constantly seeing a psychiatrist, it was not until he was found naked in the living room did investigations lead to the discovery of the truth. Chobsky draws us to understand how young people are struggling with sexual molestation and the effect it has on their mental wellbeing.
The cry to be more sympathetic to teenage struggles rings loud in this book. The theme of friendship is so evident because Charlie in the end is surrounded with friends and family that support him. Everyone needs a support system because no one was made to function alone. Hence, the book ends with a high note of optimism because we can be sure that with the support around the protagonist, he would pull through mental challenges.This book won't be a waste of your time or boring rather, it will make you sympathetic to the struggles of growing up and the problems mental illnesses can pose to all. Click To Tweet
Charlie is not the only one with the struggles, he chronicles the lives of his friends the best way he can therefore giving us a lot more to think about. Weldone, Stephen Chobsky.