You want to know what the perks of being a wallflower were in middle school? Working in the coat check room during dances. Well, not a coat check room but more like where they kept the gym equipment that hadn’t been cleaned since 1972. And maybe that rumor about the kid dying in the equipment room back in 1972 didn’t help either. Sweaty floor mats and slipped skin. The perks about being a wallflower? Going through all the popular kids’ coat pockets.
You want to know what I found?
Gum wrappers. Scrap paper with notes that could only mean something to the kid who crumpled it up and shoved it into their pocket. A Kleenex that felt uncomfortably moist. Some faded round thing that might have once been a Skittle. Or a button.
In Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is such a wallflower that he is the wall. Just blends right in. And he’s good at it, too. At dances, in classes, and walking around town he’s just plain invisible. Even to his own family. His older brother goes off to college and doesn’t come home for holidays. His sister is dating someone her father refuses to let into the house. Charlie’s mom is kind of a wallflower too, fades into the background, watching but not interacting.
The novel opens with Charlie writing letters to an anonymous reader. He never mentions a name but he mails the letters. His writing is like a journal but by sending it out to a faceless person he can feel like he exists.
And just when Charlie is sinking so far into himself that he’s terrified he won’t come back, he meets Sam and Patrick. They take one look at him and invite him into their cool world (you know, the world populated with the kids who sat under the bleachers sucking on aerosol cans and each other’s faces.).
Charlie falls in love with Sam, his first heartbreaking crazy-nuts-in-love kind of love. She’s smart and tells him right away that she doesn’t see him as boyfriend material. Charlie’s crushed, of course, but he’d rather be Sam’s friend than nothing at all. Patrick is not quite an openly gay teen (this takes place in 1992) but he’s hilarious and entertaining and there for Charlie when he needs him. And Charlie is not used to people being there for him.
Over the course of his Freshman year Charlie’s English teacher loans him books that he doesn’t loan to other students: The Fountainhead, Naked Lunch, To Kill a Mocking Bird. Charlie loses himself in the novels and in his friendship with Patrick and Sam. He studies how people interact with each other, how they can easily be themselves or morph into people they think others want them to be. He still feels alone but he finds that little by little he’s stepping out into a world he didn’t know existed.
This book isn’t a fluffy, angsty (yeah, I just made that word up) teen book about growing up lonely and misunderstood. Those have all been written. Not to give too much away, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book describing a teen’s potential mental breakdown shown throughout the letters he writes to nobody.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I got depressed after reading this book and ate three of those Safeway peanut butter cookies, you know, the ones that are the size of a toddler’s head. This might sound weird, but the book was well worth the read despite the brief gloomy attitude that I got after I finished it. And finally! Finally, a book where the friends don’t make a run for it when they see their new buddy can’t exactly cope with his brain twisting around itself.
Read it. You’ll feel better about your life.
And stay out of that weird little “coat check” room. Go to the dance. Let the walls hold you up while you’re being a wallflower. At least you made it to the dance.