The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Book Review

perksMaybe I was in a bad mood when I read it, or maybe I’m just getting old, but for some reason, the only perk I encountered while reading this collection of angsty journal entries as novel from the good people at MTV books was relief and joy when it was finally over.

I think one of my biggest problems with the book was the challenging suspension of reality it required.  “Wallflower” here is basically a euphemistic catch-all for anyone who does not fit in in high school.  In particular, your main character/journal writer Charlie.  More than just a kind of shy kid who happens to be nice and interesting once you get to know him, Charlie is held out as a sort of social leper hero.  Despite his personal challenges, which make school difficult, and attendance impossible for sometimes lengthy stretches, he is a genius.  Of course.  As the author lets us know, numerous times, via “ah shucks'” comments made in calculated passing by Charlie himself (at one point his favorite English teacher apparently asks him “Charlie, do you know how smart you are?”) (this despite the fact that the journal entry itself appears to have been written using about a 5th grade vocabulary) (I told you reality was suspended).

Also, despite the fact that he plays no sports, does not exercise or lift weights, and has no fight training, if you get on his bad side, he, as a freshman in high school, can obliterate numerous members of the varsity football team with his bare hands, apparently by sheer force of will- and/or super-power, because there is no other plausible explanation.

Also, the premise that two somewhat alternative but super-cool step-siblings, Sam and Patrick, as seniors in high school, would take the socially awkward freshman Charlie under their pet-project hungry wings, or even acknowledge his existence at all, requires perhaps the biggest reality suspension of all.

Also, and I could be getting nitpicky now, but I don’t think the author ever addresses just what exactly are the perks of being a wallflower.  I don’t know if there are any perks.  I think he just liked the sound of the title.  But hey, he wouldn’t be the first.  And it is petty darn catchy.

Also, and I know this is getting nitpicky, but I’m not sure I agree with the author’s understanding/use of the term “wallflower.”

Okay, okay, I didn’t hate everything about the book.  The “I want to make sure the first person you kiss loves you” scene could melt even the coldest, grinchiest heart.

Or the thoughtful observation “I was in my bed trying to figure out why sometimes you can wake up and go back to sleep and other times you can’t.”  Because who hasn’t been there?

Or the intensely thoughtful observation, as presented through a spirited monologue from Sam, about how loving people means more than just sitting there and listening, that constantly putting other people’s lives ahead of your own does not count as love (though I’m still not really sure what that means, and in certain contexts at least, would disagree), or why we should care whether someone loves us or not when they don’t even really know us.  Not really.

MTV made it into a movie as well (actually, knowing MTV, they probably envisioned it as a movie first, and let the book go forward as an interest-generating screenplay rough draft).  I saw the movie, and I guess that can be the subject of its own blog entry.  Or not.  But the casting choices were…interesting.  The relationships conveyed in the book…did not come off visually/chemistry-wise at all like I would have pictured them from the book.  But the music was good, and the cinematography visually compelling.  Which I guess is about as much as you can expect from MTV.

In true MTV fashion, both the book and the movie attempted to cram as many edgy teen-impacting social issues (e.g. underage drinking/drug use, sexuality, suicide, mental illness) into 200 pages/2 hours as possible.

I’m not fully sure why I disliked it so much.  If I missed something, please let me know.


17 thoughts on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Book Review

  1. I *loathed* the book. I thought it cheap, and sentimental, and completely devoid of any kind of story line that actually made sense. Really? In the last what, 20 pages we suddenly realize that the protagonist got Touched There by his aunt whom he loves, and somehow he’s suddenly in a mental hospital?

    Personally, it was the “sucker punch” approach it had. You go through the entire book, you think you know the protagonist and his compatriots, and then in the last little bit suddenly it’s like it throws on the breaks and ignores EVERYTHING else that happened prior to its Big Dramatic Climax, which ALSO comes out of nowhere.

    At least the movie gave some personality to the totally idiotic personalities that dominated the novel.

    • Okay, yes, this is exactly what I am talking about. How could I have skipped the biggest contrivance of all, the touchy aunt element? That made…absolutely no sense at all. Shameless sucker punch material that, you are so, so right. Calculatedly, manipulatively sentimental/nostalgic the rest of it. And not even good. You, dear Surly, have hit the nail on the head with this assessment. Glad to know I was not alone.

      The movie was better. I liked Charlie, at least. But because it was based on the book, yeah, there was only so much they could do.

      What sentimental teenage book/movie would you recommend instead?

  2. Honestly, I have no idea. When I was in high school my favorite authors were Vonnegut, Burgess, and Eddings. I remember really liking Paul Zindel, particularly “Pardon Me, You’re Stepping On My Eyeball.” Which isn’t really sentimental, not in the conventional sense. That’s a rough one. So what are YOUR favorite recommendations for sentimental teenage books/movies?

  3. Oh, I did really like the movie “Orange County” a lot, and I think that was an MTV production with surprisingly sweet overtones. And lots of suspension of disbelief. “Juno” was also an awesome movie, which infuriated one of my guy friends with whom I saw the movie, because of the end. If you haven’t seen it yet I won’t ruin it; I will simply report that he said “THAT IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH MOVIES TODAY. No teenage boy in the world would react like that. They aren’t capable of knowing how to handle that situation the way he did. It makes women have unrealistic expectations.”

    • I have seen and enjoyed both “Orange County” and “Juno.” In response to your friend, I would say that it would have to depend on the teenage boy. I have known some teenage boys (and suspect you have too) who are mature/wise beyond their years AND dangerously romantic AND as sentimental as the day is long who would quite possibly react in precisely the same way. Sure, they may grow bitter and angsty and live to regret it over time, but in my estimation, teenage boyhood is MADE for crazy, irrational romantic gestures. If not then, when? You know.

      I don’t know if women have unrealistic expectations or just a genuine realization that most guys aren’t trying nearly as hard as they could.

        • I could write an article. Several articles. A whole book. Or at least a column. Have you had the pleasure of reading Redbooks “whys guy”? Worst “what men really think/why men act the way they do” advice I have ever seen anywhere. Ever. EVER. If he can do it, boy do I have some wisdom to share.

          • Hahahaha, no, to date I don’t think I have read a Redbook as an adult. Don’t know what his advice is, but there is also a reason I don’t read Cosmo or any of the big magazines if I can help it. But you could probably start your own advice column and if you really were helpful it would garner massive success…until you got lynched for ratting out your fellow brethren.

          • It’s dangerous territory. And you are bound to ruffle some bro feathers. But at least my advice would be genuinely helpful, and also eloquent. The guy writes like an illiterate meathead. Which I find offensive, either because he is pretending to be dumber than he is to seem more prototypically “guy,” or because he is a genuine idiot and yet gets to have a syndicated column while more worthy advice-givers/writers actually work for a living but yet still find time to give much more clever and useful advice for free.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *