Oct 30, 2012

[Books] The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Okay, okay, I know I've already written two personal blog posts and a formal review about the movie, and you guys may already be getting sick of this particular story. But this should be the last Perks related feature for a while - unless someone adapts this story into a stage play or something. At the very least, you can say that I'm quite the completist with regard to how this book has expanded in a full multimedia franchise of its own. And that really says something.

Now normally I do my best to read the book that any movie is based on before I get around to watching the movie. But at the time I was so nervous about the movie getting pulled out of theaters before I couuld get around to watching it, and so I ended up breaking my little rule of sorts and let the movie come before the book.

And this is considering I don't even bother with the book in some cases.

But this story is definitely one that resonates with me on several levels, the book continued to foster that sense of the familiar in me. It's certainly a distinct experience in contrast to the movie, but it does not diminish the power of this narrative.

Synopsis: The Perks of Being A Wallflower is essentially a coming-of-age book written by Stephen Chbosky. The book is presented as a series of letters that the protagonist writes to some unknown penpal, although he never provides the penpal a means to write back.

At the center of the story is Charlie - or at least that's the name he gives us as readers. Given that these series of letters are being written to someone whom Charlie seems to have no plans of meeting, we have to assume that most names are aliases or something of that nature. He's writing to our mystery penpal  as a way to have someone to sort of talk to given his social challenges at school. He's just about to start high school when the book begins after a summer of being rather isolated from everyone else.

The book is set in the early 90's, thus how many vestiges of the 80's are also present in the book. At first we learn about his challenges at school in terms of friends but also how he appears to be rather gifted intellectually. And of course we eventually learn how things start to change when Charlie manages to befriend two seniors - Sam and Patrick, and how they become his first true friends in high school. But there's more to this novel than just a kid meeting older friends - over the course of the letters we learn more and more about Charlie's past and why he has such a hard time dealing with the rest of his peers.

 Now the nature of the book certainly affects how the narrative can go. Obviously it primarily means that we will only get Charlie's perspective of the story as he filters everything through, well, his brain. Also, there's that odd sense of somehow "missing" the action since these are letters that are all written well after the fact. In other words, in most books you seem to follow the action along "real-time" with the characters. This time around you are being told what had already happened, and this does end up conveying a slight sense of helplessness in things - as if you didn't already feel helpless to intervene when other characters make silly decisions right in front of you as you read along.

But these are not bad things in themselves - they are just part of what gives the book character and distinctness. If the movie was more defined by its music, the format of this book helped define the tone. After all, reading someone's letters is not exactly the same as hearing their thoughts in a first person perspective type of tale. We know that since he is writing to someone else, that means he is still potentially filtering out some parts of his accounts as is natural for any of us to do in this circumstance.

Now the movie set up a series of "reveals" all throughout as we slowly get to know Charlie better. In this case many of those same "reveals" were there but were often delivered more matter-of-factly or were presented in a manner that didn't stress the need for "surprise" at the revelation. And this ties back to my feelings of "missing the action" because of the whole penpal letter format. Things just sort of seem a bit "muted" (it's the best way that I can describe it) when you read about it in this manner, but it still keeps things interesting.

The book naturally reminds me of titles like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time given the socially awkward protagonist, the (almost) first person perspective and even just the overall tone of a boy who largely watches the world move on without him. And maybe because that was yet another book that I feel strongly about and thus this one has echoes of that.

As a coming-of-age title, the slight irony is not lost on me how the book references many other books typically prescribed as required reading in high school. A lot of the usual suspects were there like Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace and The Great Gatsby. And these references were somewhat lost in the movie since more often than not we could only glance the covers of those books. This time around we get to hear a bit of Charlie's thoughts on each story once he gets around to them, which adds more nuances of meaning to the story as a whole.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a pretty good book and one that I'm sure many young teens or perhaps even some much, much olders ones are bound to find meaning in. From a more "conventional" perspective, I can imagine more people liking the movie versus the book, but that's neither here nor there. At the end of the day they are distinct experiences that have different potentials for enjoyment for every reader or viewer. And that's where the magic lies. Thus I give the book 4 cigarettes that Charlie smokes in secret out of a possible 5.

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