By Cassady Coulter
It is rare that you find a narrator who makes you want to laugh, smile, cry, and collapse onto the floor all at the same time. But the main character Charlie in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower does just that. With frequent heartbreaking realizations about the fragility being human, Charlie tells the story of his own imperfect family. With such a sensitive soul and an emotional brain, Charlie’s character is compelling with upfront honesty and pure heart. The book deals with themes of navigating adolescence, such as finding one’s identity and finding out how to build strong relationships. There are also underlying themes that come up throughout the novel such as learning to accept the families that we are born into, and creating new ones.
The epistolary style in which this novel is written is a bold choice but makes for a unique storytelling style. The idea that you never know who Charlie is writing to throughout the entire novel adds a bit of depth and to the storyline. It reads almost like a diary entry, and for this reason the reader gets an insight into Charlie’s very personal thoughts. At times the blunt honesty and self realizations that Charlie has are heartbreaking and bittersweet. He struggles to find people to relate to throughout the entire novel despite his wholehearted desire to connect with others. And as the story continues, Charlie’s self-reflective nature turns him down dark alleys and the reader is swept along for the ride of the tumultuousness of adolescence. Charlie has to deal with some very harsh realities that 15 year old kids should never have to struggle with. He witnesses and experiences several types of abuse and has to come to terms with a lot of violence in the harsh relationships circling around him.
As a freshman in high school, Charlie struggles with the typical hardships of being a teenager. Making friends, the pressures of drinking, drugs, sex, and the role peer pressure are all things he battles with, but not in the stereotypical way you might think. Charlie has a very sensitive heart, and his more often than not he reacts to difficult situations by crying. Charlie’s sweet disposition and genuine care for others is what makes his character so human. Sam is a one of Charlie’s only friends throughout the novel and she helps him navigate through the turmoil of high school. Patrick is Sam’s stepbrother and the two remain close throughout the story. Patrick struggles to deal with a secret relationship with the star football player at his high school, and throughout the story he has to deal with the unfortunately common reality of homophobia and gay violence in high school.
Sam is a very headstrong, seemingly confident young girl who has had a bit of a troubled past. She often brings out the best in Charlie because she understands his sensitivity and kind heart. Charlie is in love with her from the start, and puts her on a pedestal, which she begins to resent him for towards the end of the novel. “It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t…” (200).
Although these two characters provide a great deal to the storyline, one of the most compelling relationships I found in this novel was between Charlie and his English teacher. Charlie’s relationship with Bill is something that is consistent throughout the book and is unlike any of his other friendships. From the start, Bill recognizes this spark in Charlie that goes unnoticed by others. He sees his incredible intelligence and kind soul even when Charlie’s peers hardly notice him. Throughout the year Bill consistently gives Charlie books to read and asks him to write papers on them. He challenges Charlie to think about these books in new ways, and he pushes him to become a better writer. As their relationship strengthens, Charlie is able to confide in Bill about some of the difficult things in his life and Bill becomes almost like a parent figure towards him. This relationship is very unique and I was intrigued by this unlikely friendship and how it grew throughout the course of the school year.
Throughout the novel Charlie is also struggles with death of his Aunt Helen. The extent of their relationship alluded to throughout the novel but never fully explained until the end of the book. Although the reader eventually comes to understand Charlie’s feelings of guilt surrounding her death, the extent of their relationship is never fully revealed.
Finally, the title of the book is something that helps give insight into Charlie’s personality. It is Patrick that first notices how attentive Charlie is to other people. Although he doesn’t always say a lot, his quiet introverted personality does not mean he is not present. Quite the contrary; Charlie notices the details about people that most people would never think twice about. His quiet disposition and incredible heart allows him to see the subtleties that make people who they are.