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On a Book Bender

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: paperback
Read: 9/26/2012 — 9/30/2012
In Six Words: Fell short of my high expectations.

Links

Stephen Chbosky — Wikipedia
Amazon — Paperback | Kindle
Add it to Goodreads

Synopsis

Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.
-from Goodreads

Why I Started Reading This Book and Final Verdict

It’s always difficult to review a book when so many people love it and you…don’t. Because so many people have praised this book, I went into reading fully expecting to be blown away. I was not. In fact, the first time I attempted to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I made it about 100 pages in, and then gave up. That was last year. With the book being made into a movie, I decided that it was time to try again. Sadly, the second time was not really any better than the first other than I actually finished the book this time.

My Thoughts

First, I don’t deal with ambiguity or vagueness very well. So, contemporary books that have no main driving plot line other than one year of high school don’t sit well with me. I like books that have one central problem that the main character seeks to solve or address throughout the course of the book. Though I suppose you could argue that fitting in or surviving high school was the central problem, it was not enough for me. I did not feel the drive to move forward with the book. It was too easy to put down.

Second, I found it very difficult to relate to Charlie. His world and mine are so completely different that it was a struggle to understand his motives. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my own issues with fitting in and finding myself and participating in life, so I relate to that overall arc. But I battled with those issues from the perspective of someone who has social anxiety. Charlie may be socially awkward and clumsy, but he’s not socially anxious. This is an important distinction for me to make because awkwardness and clumsiness are not the same as anxious. Furthermore, Charlie struck me as someone who was very naive. I wasn’t a very worldly teenager, either, but again, I just couldn’t relate to Charlie.

The part that frustrated me the most was how the issues teens face were addressed. Were many issues addressed? Yes, definitely. Is it good to address these? YES. But I felt that these issues were only briefly skimmed over. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the perfect book for opening dialogue with teenagers. But as an adult reader who wanted an exploration of these issues (and who has no teenagers in her life to open up dialogue with), the issues only skimmed the surface of what could have been covered. Why does teen pregnancy–for example–only get one, maybe two, letters? There was so much left unsaid. I expected more. I wanted more.

That said, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a bad book. It just wasn’t the book for me. The writing is good. For the right reader, it will be engaging and funny and amazing. I was not that reader. It’s also possible that all the hype worked against me. I expected something life changing. I didn’t get that.

Other Reviews

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Jennifer Lane 

About the author: Amanda, noun: 1. Creator of On a Book Bender and Bout of Books. 2. Editor at The Path of Least Revision. 3. Lover of language and books. 4. Drinker of wine, coffee, and vodka. 5. Idea wrangler and wielder of words.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • “So, contemporary books that have no main driving plot line other than one year of high school don’t sit well with me.” UH-HUH. I hear ya. But…

    You know, it’s interesting to me: the book has been SO praised — or so folks keep saying — but I’ve actually own heard people saying similar things to you — that it wasn’t for you, didn’t connect, thought… mm… almost that it was shallow in how it addressed it’s ‘issues’.

    You know what I thought was really interesting thought, was this: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the perfect book for opening dialogue with teenagers.”

    It kind of sounds to me that this is what the book was written for — for this express purpose — by someone who really isn’t giving teens the credit they deserve.

    I am INTRIGUED, AMANDA. INTRIGUED.
    AND WHY OH WHY IS IT ALWAYS REVIEWS LIKE THIS WHICH MAKE ME WANT TO READ A BOOK?! *headdesk*

    I am so so SO excited for the movie, though :D

    • Ha. Having you want to read this book after my review makes me feel a little better about not liking this book, actually. =P

      “It kind of sounds to me that this is what the book was written for — for this express purpose — by someone who really isn’t giving teens the credit they deserve.”

      I agree. I think teens can handle going more in depth into these issues, and in some cases, I felt that the consequences of some actions (like the teenage pregnancy) were glossed over to the point where it made it seem like it was “no big deal.” And stuff like that isn’t.

      But. BUT. I can also see this book used as a starting point for greater discussion and critical thinking. Stuff like, “Okay, this character found she was pregnant. What kind of issues do you think she might face if she a) kept the baby or b) had an abortion?”

  • I agree with you about the skimming over of issues. I wanted MOAR there, too! But as you also state, I feel that it is a book to open dialogue for youth. Many of the people who went to the movie screening with the author Q&A after all stated how this book really helped them open up or positively deal with things in high school. I like to see Charlie as role model, even though he was strangely naive.

    Overall, a very honest review that makes me want to hug you. Do you plan to see the movie? I wonder what your thoughts will be on it. :) Thanks for the link. I think I will put your link on my review, now.

    • I can definitely see how this book can be a starting point for discussion. And teens need books like that, I think. It’s just that I may be the wrong age to be reading this book for the first time ESPECIALLY given that I have no active dealings with teenagers. If I were more involved in the day to day lives of teenagers, this book might have had more of an impact.

      I want to see the movie (Kristilyn said she enjoyed the movie more than the book) but I don’t have any active plans to see it. If that makes sense.

  • I hate to admit that I haven’t read this because I teach teens and have heard such amazing things about this book…I really should give it a shot, though I have a feeling I’ll get the same vibe as you. Skimming over issues is almost worse than ignoring them in some cases. It’s almost belittling, in some ways.

    • I agree about the skimming of issues. But I can also see how this book would work REALLY WELL for discussion in a classroom setting. If it was handled that way, then yes. Definitely a good way to start discussion. But if it’s more, “Here’s a book that deals with some topics. Read it, then come back to me and we can talk about what you want” that… doesn’t work for me.

  • I’ve started this on several occasions, and each time I’ve been unable to get past Charlie’s whining. And crying. They’re both present before any major sense of plot is introduced, and it always makes me respond like, “Really? Really?”

    I’ve never given it a chance beyond that, but I’m periodically drawn to it anyway. I haven’t had it stick yet. So I’m with you on the disconnect.

    • Charlie’s whining and crying was pretty off-putting for me,too. I pushed to finish it because of the movie and because the ending supposedly explains things. (Honestly, I missed the big revelation at the end and didn’t realize it until days later when I was reading other–spoilery–reviews.)

  • Hmmmm. I typically don’t deal well with ambiguity in books either. I like things to have a clear direction and destination, and once I get there, I want to be satisfied with the journey and the answers I’ve been given along the way. Can’t help it! I’m thinking this might not be the book for me, give me vampires and werewolves and fae and goblins and all matter of supernatural things:)

    • Those supernatural creatures do add a little something-something to books, don’t they? I love them. *flounces off to find a #NakedWerewolf*

  • Don’t feel bad. I didn’t enjoy this one a whole lot either. It was just way too many issues thrown in and the narration was ok. I think I’ll stick with Holden Caufield instead. :)

  • I don’t feel so bad now! I went to get this one from the library (book buying ban and all) and started it. I couldn’t make it past chapter 4–it just wasn’t for me. I am pretty sure we are in the minority but it is comforting to see I am not alone!

    • Yes! I honestly wasn’t going to post this review on my blog, but…sometimes we have to move beyond the shame of not liking a well-loved book, I think. And I’m so glad to know that I’m not alone, either. :)

  • I’m going to be honest, this book wasn’t even on my radar prior to you reading it. It’s just… not my type of book. So, I’m going to pretend like I read it with you and leave it at that.

    So, here’s the deal, I’ll read the menage books, you read the ones that… aren’t menages. Win/win. Actually, I think I’m the only one winning here. Menages! Woot!

    • Yeah. There’s not really anything here that says, “Kelly!” Menages, on the other hand, scream your name. And moan your name. And other stuff.

  • I’ve been completely “meh” about giving this book a chance. YA contemporary and me don’t tend to mix well, knowing there isn’t much of a plot? I really doubt I’ll ever bother. Thanks for saving a few hours of my life. :)

  • I think the naivity of Charlie bothered me a little until I reminded myself it was the 90s and we weren’t quite so wordly back then. But I loved it, I laughed and cried but I identified a lot with Charlie. Yes, it doesn’t have any big, life changing event in it, it is merely a year in the life of a quite average boy. And that, and the really touching writing, worked for me.

    Not everyone can like every book. I am still out there on my own with being puzzled why Divergent is so popular, I’m surprised I loved this ;)

  • I’m pretty bummed you didn’t enjoy this, but I like that you mentioned it’s just not the book for you. I also think it has a tremendously different effect when read as a teen.

    • I would have to agree. I think this would be a great read for a teen, and if I worked with teens, I’d definitely recommend this book. And if I’d read this book as a teen, I would have probably felt different about it.

  • I still have to read this one! I’ve heard only a few other people telling me they didn’t like it and it was because she didn’t understand his motives. Maybe this is the sort of book where people will absolutely love it, or dislike it. It’s not a book for everyone. And I love contemporary books that go in depth with serious issues, so if this one just skims the surface…. :\

    • A lot of people really like and identify with this book, so maybe you will, too? I think maybe it depends a lot on you and your experiences. It’s always worth the shot! :)

  • I really wanted to like this one, but I think I had the same problem as you with not really being able to relate with Charlie. Things between us were just sooo different that I found myself putting the book down way too often. You are right, though, it’s a good book for opening dialogue. I just wish I had liked it more.

    • Same. Or I wish that I had teenagers in my life to open dialogue with? I feel like that would have made it more poignant. It just wasn’t right for me. *shrugs*

  • I’m sorry you didn’t like this book as much as you hoped. :( I do agree that we should review books especially if it goes against the hype. Honest opinions are important.

    I did love this book mainly because I had come to love Charlie as a kind of adorable quiet guy and the ending was surprising. I do understand where you’re coming from on the issues! There are a LOT of them and I too felt like none of them were specifically addressed in any sort of detail.

    • Yes! I think we’re often afraid to go against the hype, but… sometimes that’s needed. If only for a reminder that not everyone likes the same books.

  • I totally get why this book isn’t as much loved by many as it is by many others. It is a little stiff & it took me a while to wrap my brain about who the letters were to & resigned myself that it was a diary. Whatever. I think what made me like Charley was how he really paid attention to people. I have a friend that always buys the PERFECT gift and I’m always scrambling at the last minute because 1) I forgot 2) I have no idea what to get. I do think it is a good discussion book, because it leaves the depth for reader interaction. His positive view in the END is remarkably yet sincerely positive. I need more of that in my life.

    • lol. I think some people are just better gift givers than others. =P I almost wish I had a teen to discuss things with because I think the book would have had greater meaning for me, then.

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