Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’d never read this best-selling coming-of-age story, first published in 1999. It has more than 15 thousand reviews on Amazon, so I’m not sure if what I say will add anything new to the discussion, but here goes:

Set outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it’s the story of Charlie, a fifteen-year-old boy, as he navigates his first year of high school. In epistolary format, Charlie writes to an unnamed friend about his feelings and experiences. Although he is awkward and shy, he makes friends with seniors and twins Patrick and Sam (a girl) and they introduce Charlie to their friend group. Charlie immediately develops a crush on Sam.

At school, Charlie’s English teacher, Bill sees something in Charlie and gives him extra reading assignments, encouraging him to talk and write about the books he reads. Charlie’s impressions of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Peter Pan, A Separate Peace, This Side of Paradise, The Fountainhead and many other classics are regular mentions in his letters.

That’s the basic structure of the story, but there is much going on beneath Charlie’s day-to-day experiences. Readers will pick up on hints of Charlie’s emotional instability as he talks about his family life, his college freshman brother, high school senior sister, their parents and the death of his Aunt Helen.

Bill tells Charlie he needs to participate in life and Charlie does his best, but he prefers to be on the sidelines, observing his new friends at parties, where he earns the “wallflower” name. Charlie witnesses the usual teenage drama, including new romances and breakups. He feels the best when he’s with Patrick and Sam, driving and listening to music, a feeling he describes as “infinite.”

Charlie is an unusual mix of innocence, insight and emotion, and likable for displaying these vulnerabilities. But, although he’s a regular at parties, gets a girlfriend, and frequently drinks, smokes pot and tries other drugs with his friends, he yields to their feelings, doing what he thinks they want him to do.

Friendships break, shift and change during the school year and Charlie is either falling or reaching a new understanding of his unexplained feelings. When his friends graduate, he must confront changes and his sophomore year without them.

I enjoyed reading this story, which is a curious mix of optimism and angst. What I liked most about it is that the characters, even when they face overwhelming problems, share resilience and a resolve to keep moving forward.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a frequent title on lists of banned books because of its mature content covering sexuality, drug and alcohol use, and physical and sexual abuse. Some readers may object to the content, although I think it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of adolescence.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

43 thoughts on “Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

  1. I never had a chance to be a wall-flower because Mennonites don’t dance – ha!

    On another note, Barbara, when I see a book with thousands of reviews, I sometimes shrink from writing yet another review as such work takes TIME and EFFORT. Good for you for diving in anyway!

    1. Hi Ariella -I was really pulled into Charlie’s character and would have loved reading this as a teenager (I’m waaayyy past that stage!). I have not watched the movie, but plan to get it at the library. Thank you for visiting.

  2. Yikes! That’s a lot of reviews! I’ve heard of the book but no idea that is was so popular and even banned! Seriously, it that still happening? Your review has me intrigued and will definitely look at reading some point. As an aside, just finished season one of My Brilliant Friend and loving it!! Happy Reading & Reviewing!

    1. Hi Annika – My Brilliant Friend is on my list! Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, banned books are still a thing, but now I think they’re the books people promote and gravitate towards. I think parents think kids can’t handle content like this or that it will give them ideas. Not so sure they aren’t already in that world to varying degrees. Thanks for reading and commenting. Off to the grocery store now! Then a book later 🙂

  3. I have never read this, Barbara, but have heard of it. I didn’t know about it being banned though. I think I’ll add it to my list based on your excellent review. Soon, I’ll be reading 5 books at once! 🙂

    1. Hi Lauren – I have trouble reading more than one book at a time, unless one is an audiobook. Hope you like this one when you get to it. It’s a pretty fast read. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I remember when this book (and movie) were so popular. I’ve been meaning to read the book, or at least watch the movie, but somehow never got around to it. Thanks for the reminder and for sharing.

    1. I’m going to watch the movie too – I also remember when it was popular, but I was deep into running after children at the time so never had the chance to read or watch 🙂

  5. This has been on my list for a while, although I was unsure about it. Now you have convinced me to pick up a copy when I can.

    1. Hi Jennifer – thank you for reading and leaving a comment. Glad you liked the movie – do you know which one you watched? I’d like to watch, but I’m not sure which one to pick! Just saw your tweet reply. Glad your power came back on. I can’t decide whether it’s better to lose power in the winter or summer. In the winter, we can put our food outside to keep cold. But the heat is always an issue (we don’t have a generator). Once I put a whole pot of meatballs and sauce in a snowbank outside our house to stay fresh!

      1. I only know of one movie, and I think it’s on Netflix: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a 2012 American coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on his own 1999 novel of the same name.”

        We’d rather lose power in summer, but amazing how warm our living room was last night being heated only by candles–a lot of candles. The wind was on the other side of the house and it wasn’t all that cold out anyway. Funny about your meatballs and sauce! We managed supper by using the barbecue. 🙂

      2. Oh eek – I’m sorry I was thinking I was talking about The Hound of the Baskervilles!! Sorry, Jennifer 🙂 I’m glad you had a nice cozy evening! We lost power for about 4 days in the summer because of a hurricane that came up the coast. It was so hot here! And the grocery stores were nearly out of food for a couple days. A little scary but we were okay… The grilling option is always a good one 😉

  6. This sounds like an interesting personal growth story, Barbara. It always surprises me how drugs creep into books about youngsters. They were not at all common when I was in high school and that wasn’t very long ago.

    1. It’s kind of like a modern Catcher in the Rye – the way the character spirals. Although Charlie’s character is unique, because of his problems, the American high school experience is probably mostly accurate, although exaggeraged. There’s a lot of drama in his friend group!

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