The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So way back in November, my book club had its very first meeting.  The book we were supposed to read was The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I completely forgot to check it out until about a week before the meeting.  Naturally, my local library didn’t have it.  Neither did the one the next town over.  Fortunately, the library where I work had it.  Unfortunately, it was already out.  So, with a week to spare, I asked them to put it on reserve for me and prayed it would come in with enough time for me to read it before my meeting.  Then I headed to Barnes & Noble to see what ridiculous price they wanted to charge for it.  I left the store empty-handed, my hopes of reading the book before the movie crushed even further.

A couple of weeks ago, the library called.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower was in – did I still want it?  Despite the fact that the meeting I’d wanted it for was three months passed, I figured, why not?  I’ve heard great things about it and I’d really like to see the movie, so let’s see what it’s all about.

I can’t say I’m sorry I read it, because I’m not.  I don’t think I can honestly say that about any book, even the ones I really disliked.  But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.  I felt a bit let down, to be honest.  I’d still like to see the movie and I have several (okay, maybe more than that) passages flagged for reference, but overall, it wasn’t what I thought it would be.  Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

I recently read an article about whether or not there is a right age to read certain books, and the article kept floating through my mind as I read this book because I think, had I read this when it came out, which is to say when I was coming of age, like Charlie (the protagonist), I might have fallen hopelessly in love with it and counted it as one of my favorites.  It might have been one of those books that didn’t lose its charm upon rereading.  But, as a 29-year-old, frazzled-to-pieces mother of four who slogs through her day job in hopes of being able to quit one day to focus on writing full time?  Not so much.  I’m too far removed from the idealistic 15-year-old I was when the book debuted.

However, there were things I liked about the book.  I loved that it was epistolary.  I can only think of one other book I’ve read that was written this way and it was done way back in the eighteenth century, if I remember correctly (Evelina, or The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World by Fanny Burney.  Check it out – if you like Jane Austen, you’ll love Fanny Burney.), and I read it because I’d heard the author influenced Jane Austen, whose books I adore.

And despite what I said earlier about being too old for the book, I did relate to Charlie a little.  Take this bit, for instance:

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that.  That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years.  Or just not exist.  Or just not be aware that you do exist.  Or something like that.  I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this.  That’s why I’m trying not to think.  I just want it all to stop spinning.  –Charlie, p. 94

Totally relatable.  As a matter of fact, I’ve had a lot of experience with that feeling over the last couple of years.  I don’t know why; it’s not something I talk about; I would really like it to stop.  But I definitely related.

Or this bit:

I’m not the way I am because of what I dreamt and remembered about my aunt Helen.  That’s what I figured out when things got quiet.  And I think that’s very important to know.  It made things feel clear and together.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know what happened was important.  And I needed to remember it.  But it’s like when my doctor told me the story of these two brothers whose dad was a bad alcoholic.  One brother grew up to be a successful carpenter who never drank.  The other brother ended up being a drinker as bad as his dad was.  When they asked the first brother why he didn’t drink, he said that after he saw what it did to his father, he could never bring himself to even try it.  When they asked the other brother, he said that he guessed he learned how to drink on his father’s knee.  So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons.  And maybe we’ll never know most of them.  But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.  We can still do things.  And we can try to feel okay about them.  –Charlie, p. 211

I had to smile a little at this because it was like the author was writing about me (only he’d turned me into a boy).  See, my dad was a big drinker.  I don’t drink as a result.  Maybe every once in a while, but I’m too scared of becoming like him.  So that definitely resonated with me.

There were some other things that I related to, mostly about Charlie’s parents.  But then there was this:

I’m not exactly sure why, but I always thought it would be fun to have “glory days.”  Then, I would have stories to tell my children and golf buddies.  I guess I could tell people about Punk Rocky and walking home from school and things like that.  Maybe these are my glory days, and I’m not even realizing it because they don’t involve a ball.  –Charlie, p. 52

I definitely didn’t think of my teen years as my glory days at the time, but I do now (primarily because they were the most fun I’ve had so far).  There was another scene where they were all sitting around discussing big things and I forgot to make a note of it, but I loved the scene because it was the sort of thing that I always wanted to do with my friends but never had the chance to experience.  I guess we were too busy writing about our favorite boy bands breaking down outside our houses and falling madly in love with us.

Yes, we really wrote things like that.  But it’s okay, because we were stretching our writing muscles and practicing for later.  Or at least I was.  I’m pretty sure a couple of others were, too.

So, I’ve heard this book compared to The Catcher in the Rye and I can sort of see why.  I think it’s definitely worth reading, though I am sad that I didn’t enjoy it more.  But I’m still looking forward to the movie.

Who knows?  Maybe the movie will take me back to the times when my friends and I were infinite.

(c) 2013.  All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  1. *tara says:

    The movie is a pretty straight adaptation of the book, although I already loved some of the actors in it and that made it a little easier to be on board and relate right away, rather than being pulled in as the book progresses. I love the book but probably won’t be able to re-read it for a long time– it’s too emotional.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      I really wanted to love the book. I love The Catcher in the Rye, but I read that in high school and again in college and I think that made the difference. The Tor article I linked to above, about the right age to read books, was really interesting because at first I was like, “This is silly! Of course there isn’t a right age to read a book! I can enjoy YA books as much now as I could when I was a teenager!” But then I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I was like, “Okay, so maybe I was wrong about that whole age thing.”

      And maybe I’ll like the movie better. I love Emma Watson and am looking forward to seeing her in other things.

      Oh! Digression! I saw the new cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and of course, they had to say that it was in honor of the book’s fifteenth anniversary, which made me feel really old. *sigh* Oh, books. 🙂


  2. dm yates says:

    Nice review. I’ve read books that I thought were just ok, but like you, I’ve never regretted reading any book – except one that was just trashy from page one on. This does sound like a good read though.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      Thanks, Donna. It was a good read; it was very well-written and I really wanted to love it to pieces, but I found myself thinking a few times that real teenagers wouldn’t say or do some of the things that the kids in the book did and then I thought, “Well, would they?” Because I started thinking that maybe they would and I’m just too old now to really know. 🙂 So I think I’m just too far away from the target audience to be able to appreciate the book the way it was meant to be appreciated.

      But there were some really wonderful turns of phrase in the book and some beautiful imagery and, like I said, I found myself relating to Charlie despite the fact that I didn’t really think I would be able to. I think this is one of those books that, the more I reflect on it, the more I get out of it, and that’s not a bad thing.


  3. Raewyn Hewitt says:

    I agree that certain books resonate with different stages of your life. The books I loved as a teenager often dealt into the whole teenage angst, coming of age sort of scenario. And like you as a busy Mum now, I haven’t got the same connection with the topic – because there’s so little time in my life for being introspective… Now I like reading about people who just get on with it.


    • Kay Kauffman says:

      I find that I’m introspective about different things now, or I’m different about the same things and forget that I used to think about them as a teenager, too. But the moments I have for being introspective are definitely few and far between!


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