Book cover
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky

My kid Isabel loved this book as a teenager, although I’m not sure they ever really told me. We did watch the film together at the time, on Isabel’s recommendation. But it didn’t resonate with me much. (I think this has as much to do with my hangup on Emma Watson’s acting in general as anything else, but I digress…) Recently we had dinner together, and they told me how much this book meant to them at the time. I honestly felt a little sorry that I hadn’t picked up on this, so we could have shared that experience together. I’m not sure if I was being a dolt, or if Isabel was keeping this one close to their heart.

At any rate they recently asked me if I would read it and I of course said yes.

I can see why this book resonated. It is very good. I love a first-person narrative. I love an epistolary novel. And I love a distinctive voice. This book is all three, and it makes it deeply engaging and a breeze to read. I stayed up too late finishing, work be darned. Charlie’s hyper-simplistic unpretentious language makes his powerful thoughts stand out all the more, which is quite a feat. He’s a philosopher who writes like a 15-year-old boy, and it totally works.

I think the most striking thing about this story is how modern the boy-girl dynamics feel. Somehow I wouldn’t have guessed even a very good book written in 1999 would say something like this:

She said I was the most sensitive boy she’d ever met, which I didn’t understand because really all I did was not interrupt her.

Let alone tell a story of sexual abuse that doesn’t focus on girls.

But all that aside, to me this is most fundamentally a book about what it feels like to be a watcher, a listener, an observer of the social universe. This is something that I can identify with, and I found it entirely authentic. And this book goes way deeper than I was prepared for. Like near the end, when Sam gets frank with Charlie:

You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.

It cuts deep.

Thank you Isabel for encouraging me to pick this one up.