Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Book Review: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower


First of all, I decided to give this novel a read due to all of the hype that surrounded it a couple of years back and the fact is, it's a short read at under 300 pages so it's perfect for breaks at work. The main character and narrative voice, Charlie, is a fifteen year old boy who seems both immature and naive for his age, although that being said, he does suffer quite extensively from mental health, which could be related to his naivety. Seemingly friendless, the narrative voice is given through a series of letters to a stranger. The start of the novel discusses starting High School and naturally, the fears that come with starting over at a new stage in life. Further on, we see Charlie start to socialise with a group of older friends and you get to watch his personality develop; although it seems possible that Charlie has some kind of personality disorder or autism. (As I'm not a medical professional this possibility is purely guesswork). I wasn't keen on the letter style of writing, I found the dates and end of the letters somewhat irritating; the text didn't flow well in this style. Chbosky covers a variety of Young Adult topics in this novel such as mental health, suicide/death, sexuality, sexual abuse/rape,  substance abuse, domestic violence and social anxiety but unfortunately none of these issues are dealt with in any depth.

As a reader, I do enjoy seeing the world from another's perspective and Charlie's mind is unquestionably interesting; intelligent but socially awkward, I can see why this novel was so hyped a few years ago as it describes feelings and the consequences of drugs such as LSD and marijuana, as well as discovering sexuality, having sex and going on dates, alongside homosexuality. Witnessing Charlie forge relationships felt quite intrusive at times; he seemed to struggle a lot with different kinds of relationships, which as a reader suddenly becomes understandable at a point in the book. The title of the novel relates to a situation where Charlie is declared a 'wallflower' by his friend; he seems to settle into that ideal pretty easily, content to be forever on the outskirts of a group. However, I didn't really feel like his naivety was altogether true; Charlie was perceptive, he took part in the usual teenage rebellions of taking drugs and having sex so it was hard for me to believe that he wasn't aware of masterbation or dreaming about sex prior to engaging in any sexual activity. That said, he did hang around with an older group of friends, but at 15 years old it's slightly unbelieveable considering he comes from a non religious family that seem to be open about sex.

The one relationship that I really liked was between Charlie and his English teacher; Bill seemed to not only give Charlie a great deal of time and attention, but he also seemed to see something in Charlie that no one else did, particularly Charlie himself. It's clear throughout the novel that Charlie is a rapidly advanced reader, often spending time reading and Bill often gives Charlie some great advice. He becomes a real support to Charlie and is the most positive model (in my opinion) amongst the range of characters that are brought to the fore in various parts of the book. That said, all of the characters introduced feel realistic, they're described in such a way that they will likely remind you of someone that you know, or used to know. None of the relationships are really described in masses of detail, although for a novel of less than 300 pages it's hardly surprising that there are some details lacking; parts of this novel seem quite lacklustre and vague, but this could be down to Charlie's narrative voice being somewhat hazy during his drug and/or alcohol binges. At times it feels like the writing style doesn't match the personality and hyper intelligence that is expected of Charlie, given the impression that the reader is given through Bill assigning him extra reading and essays (as he essentially a high achieving student, particularly in English).

Overall, I would say don't give into the hype that this book had a couple of years back; the title is massively enticing, especially for someone like me who has a tendency to become a wallflower at times. However, I hated the writing style; I'm not a fan of letters, or diary excerpts as a narrative technique as honestly it irritates me. Although in this case, it's intended to add to Charlie's personality, I felt like we were glimpsing a very one sided, tactically placed narrative voice so that a lot of puzzle pieces are missing. The main issue that I had with his book is that I just couldn't gel with Charlie; possibly because I'm now in my twenties and teenage issues don't bother or affect me anymore, but I found his naivety annoying rather than endearing. I just wanted a little more oomph; for example a better explanation of his mental health problems and the various other topics that are touched upon but never fully explained. It was difficult to judge where the writer was going with this novel and it's definitely one that you either love or hate and I have to say I was disappointed to be closer to the hate catagory; there was so much untapped potential in this book that left me both curious and frustrated. Let me know in the comments if you have read this book; if you have, did you love it or hate it? Or if you are planning to read this book, I'd love to hear another opinion!

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