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

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by
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.

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What’s That Book? The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

whats-that-book

the-most-dangerous-place-on-earth

Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Author:  Lindsey Lee Johnson

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

Rating:  ****

What’s it about?  Debut novel (2017) about privileged high schoolers from a wealthy suburb of San Francisco.  The story centers around eight high school kids and a new English teacher who tries to connect with them.

It has been three years since the suicide of their eighth grade classmate, Tristan Bloch, and while they have moved on, each is saddled by complex feelings of guilt.  Abigail is a super achiever, Ryan a heartthrob baseball player.  Emma is driven to dance, Nick is an unscrupulous moneymaker, and Elisabeth is a stunning beauty.  Dave must meet his parents’ expectations and Damon has landed in rehab.  And the biggest burden of grief falls on Callie, who reinvents and loses herself in a numbing transformation.

While these may sound like typical advantaged and spoiled teenagers, Johnson does a terrific job developing her characters and defining their painful adolescence, showing that money cannot fix feelings, families or relationships.  Johnson also points to the superficial and damaging effects of social media and its often destructive role in friendships.  She gives the reader a sometimes shocking look into the secret lives of teenagers.

As the friends move through their junior and senior years, a series of dangerous developments threatens to break some and free others, with an imperfect but satisfying finish.

The story is loaded with excellent imagery, one of Johnson’s strongest points, adding that extra layer of quality writing that I love to see.

How did you hear about it?  I saw an online book review and wanted to read it.  I enjoy reading about high school kids because of all the changes they face in a compressed period of time.

Closing comments:  I like books about groups of friends and how their relationships change over time.  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is an excellent story about seeming stereotypes with unique, realistic and modern problems.  Johnson also gives her characters the universal teenage challenge of both fitting in and being comfortable in their own skin.  It reminds me of the 1985 movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (even though those friends are recent college grads) and one of my favorite books, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

Contributor:  Ginette


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Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

reconstructing amelia
Reconstructing Amelia

by
Kimberly McCreight

Rating:

“If you think you know what your teenagers are doing on social media, you’d better think again.”  That’s what Kate Baron might have said in the end, long after her daughter Amelia’s shocking death and the investigation that followed.  Kate’s discoveries of the cyber circles in which Amelia had become entangled reveal a world Kate could have never imagined, full of cliques, vicious gossip, exclusive clubs and secret initiations.

Reconstructing Amelia is Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel about the secret life of teenagers at Grace Hall, an elite private school in Brooklyn.  Her story begins on the day of Amelia’s death and continues through the months that follow while Kate tries to understand what happened to the girl she thought she knew.

Kate already knows that something is wrong when she’s called out of an important meeting at work to retrieve her daughter.  Amelia, a gifted high school student and talented athlete, has been suspended for cheating, effective immediately.  As she rushes to the school to pick up her daughter, Kate braces herself for a meeting with Amelia and the headmaster.  But there will be no meeting because Amelia, she is carefully told, has fallen off the roof of the building.

Amelia’s death is ruled an “impulsive suicide” and, just as Kate begins to face her new reality, she receives an anonymous text:  “Amelia didn’t jump.”

Kate knows in her heart these words are true and, with the help of a police detective, she immerses herself in her daughter’s secret internet life.  They pore over emails, Facebook posts, and text messages and try to piece together the events that led to Amelia’s death.  In addition, a snarky gossip blog and a pile of hate notes hint at bullying and secret clubs.  But who is responsible?

In some ways, Reconstructing Amelia is a coming-of age-story, for both mother and daughter.  In the weeks before her death, Amelia faces many decisions about friendship, love and fitting into a world she is just beginning to understand.  And in the months after her death, Kate must make peace with her own decisions and move forward.

McCreight builds a suspenseful story on an interesting premise and I enjoyed reading this fast-paced story because of its many twists and turns.  Readers may become frustrated, however, with partially-developed leads and an overabundance of questionable character motives that muddle up the storyline without purpose.  Equally frustrating are a good number of typos and grammar errors, taking away from the reading experience.

That said, I liked the book for its ideas and pace, making it a light, entertaining read.

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Short story review from: The American Tradition in Literature – “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates


Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The American Tradition in Literature, Fourth Edition.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
by
Joyce Carol Oates

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This short story, written in 1970, is a creepy story of suspense, fear and risk that begins with Connie, a fifteen-year-old girl who is full of the adolescent excitement of being young. That summer, Connie and her best girl friend find new boys every night when they are dropped off at the shopping plaza, to shop or see a movie, so they’ve told their parents.

One night, after meeting a boy named Eddie, Connie catches the eye of a different, mysterious figure in a car, who grins at her and wags his finger, “Gonna get you, baby,” he says.

First Oates sets an easy mood of kids being kids. Then Arnold Friend pulls up to Connie’s house, with Ellie Oscar along for the ride. She’s alone. Her family is gone for the day and somehow Arnold knows all about this. “You wanta come for a ride?” he asks. Connie talks through the screen door. Something isn’t right about Arnold Friend. He looks older than she thought. But he has a smooth way of talking and Connie can’t decide. The reader can see just how dangerous he is, but Connie doesn’t see the risk. She’s pulled by the danger, despite her fear.

Oates does a great job showing Connie’s flawed reasoning. When Connie is tempted by the thrill of a break from her otherwise boring teenage life, she has only herself to rely upon. The abrupt ending leaves the reader afraid.

This is a dark story, with a great insight into the uglier side of human interaction. It’s a raw and unsettling read with lingering effects. The story was adapted into the 1985 movie Smooth Talk. I also found a modern YouTube adaptation by Ana Proulx, which captures the scary mood of the story. Check it out here.

Oates dedicated this story to Bob Dylan. She said she was inspired to write “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” after listening to his song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. (From Amazon.

For more information about Joyce Carol Oates, including a full list of her writing, visit the following links: The Academy of Achievement and Wikipedia.

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

the fault in our stars picThe Fault in Our Stars
by
John Green

Rating:

This is the kind of book you are self-propelled to read non-stop until you finish. I want to say I loved it, because there are so many things that are truly gem-like and they give you the wonderful, emotional feeling you sometimes get when you read really great books.

But you must be warned that this is a very sad story, with heart-breaking moments. To be fair, there are also a lot of positive relationship moments. Seventeen-year-old Hazel is dying. She meets Gus, a bone cancer survivor, and they fall in love. They have an intense courtship and they know they are short on time.

I think John Green does a great job portraying Hazel and Gus. I have heard others say their conversations are too intellectual for teenagers. I don’t think so and I think he really captures the teenage intensity along with their heightened sense of the loss of time.

Although the story is written through Hazel’s point of view, Green also shows us what it is like to be parents of cancer patients, and how they must prepare themselves for loss. And he shows how Gus and Hazel cling to each other and their friend Isaac, and try to have normal teenage lives.

There are unexpected plot turns and surprising characters, and the story is nicely tied together, with some open endings to keep the reader thinking. I think the ending is uplifting and makes the best of tough loss.

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