I am writing to you because she says you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.
I read Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was 15, the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I skimmed through it in a couple of days, thought Charlie was “weird” for crying so much, gave it a three star rating on Goodreads, and moved on. As years passed, I noticed people would mention how much they loved the book, while I was too busy with my nose stuck in Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” series and other YA supernatural romances (Team Edward or gtfo). I wondered what the big deal was about “Perks.” Sure, I had thought it was alright, but I didn’t see the book as anything too special.
Then, in 2012, it was made into a movie. I was excited to see it (after all, the perfect Emma Watson was starring as Sam) and I even volunteered to review it for my high school newspaper. I drove all the way to the giant AMC in Olathe (the only movie theater near me showing the indie flick) and saw it with my mom. By this point, I had pretty much forgotten everything about the book, so I came into the movie fairly oblivious.
I fell in love with the movie. I fell in love with Emma Watson’s Sam, with Ezra Miller’s Patrick, and, especially, with Logan Lerman’s Charlie. I was crying by the time it was over, and I saw it two more times in theaters with my friends. The story was beautiful and relatable and so damn truthful. It’s one of my favorite movies, only behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I bought the book shortly after seeing the film, but it wasn’t until this past week that I picked it back up.
Reading “Perks” as a 19-year-old college student is much different than reading it as a 15-year-old girl.
Everyone can relate to Charlie. Everyone, at one point or another, feels like a wallflower. We all think something is wrong with us but don’t know what, we all long for a place to belong, we all feel “both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
Like Charlie, I have often felt like a silent observer, standing in the corner watching everyone interact and wondering about their lives. Like Charlie, I have spent time completely without friends, and even when I was surrounded by friends I’ve felt apart from them. Different. Like an outsider.
When I read “Perks” the first time, I didn’t get it, you know? I was 15. I was still in high school, I hadn’t gone through any particularly life changing experiences. I hadn’t lost friends, I hadn’t made too many stupid decisions, I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even my first kiss. I was just a kid who spent all of her time at home reading and watching TV. I was innocent and oblivious and ignorant about the world.
At 19, I’ve lost friends. I’ve had relationships and had those relationships end. I’ve been completely out of my element. I’ve had to make all new friends and find my place to belong in college. I’ve watched my older friends leave for college before me, while I stayed behind to finish my last year of high school. I’ve had nights with my friends where I’ve felt infinite and alive and felt like I was really there.
When I finished “Perks” today, I got it.
I have never, in all my years of devouring books, annotated. I don’t circle things, I don’t underline, I don’t write my own thoughts between the margins. But with “Perks,” there were lines I read over and over, and I just had to mark them.
When Bill warns Charlie, “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”
When Charlie reminisces about past experiences, “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not so sad.”
When Charlie watches some kids sledding down a hill, completely elated, “I think it would be great if sledding was always enough, but it isn’t.”
When Bill tells Charlie, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
When Charlie observes, “Things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.”
And, of course, the beautiful untitled poem that Charlie reads to his friends at the Christmas party, all about the loss of innocence. (which I, admittedly, read through multiple times and cried).
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” is honest. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and passionate. It’s a story about growing up and discovering love and sex and drugs and friendship and yourself. It’s universal and timeless and…everything. It’s about taking action and “participating” in life, and not just sitting on the sidelines. Charlie and his friends go through what we all go through as we grow up and figure out who we want to be. It’s about, as Charlie says in the novel’s closing pages, “It’s okay to feel things. And be who you are about them.” It’s about that one song, that one night, on that one drive, where you felt infinite.