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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky If, like me, you lurk on frequent tumblr, you will have realised that there is only so far you can scroll before you hit something like this:Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary novel has something of a cult following, and the quotes that litter the internet seem almost anthemic, given the passion with which they are re-blogged, quoted, slapped across artfully light-leaked photographs and “liked”. A generation appears to have adopted The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and by extension it’s narrator Charlie, as a sort of symbol of the experience of adolescence. Frequently criticised and challenged, Perks seems to offer its devoted fans a sense of connection, of understanding, of honesty about things left unspoken, or whispered behind hands and closed doors. This book speaks to the sense of alienation that many teens experience, the questions of who they are and where they belong. Charlie has become a response to – and I mean no disrespect by this, as I was/am a voice in this – a collective, plaintive cry of “nobody understands me”.It also seems to have become an unofficial badge of hipsterism, and therein lies the reason for my cautious okay, biased approach to reading this book. To be blunt, I expected to dislike Perks. I know my reading tastes quite well by now and I no longer feel the need to read books based on any kind of social or intellectual cachet apparently attached to them. If anything, that just makes me more inclined to baulk at picking them up. So I confess to a little chagrin at the realisation that I don’t hate this book. I don’t even dislike it. I’ll push the boat right out and say I was rather moved by this story. While some of the issues and content in Perks may seem less groundbreaking now, more than a decade after it’s initial publication, I think it’s fair to say that they still resonate with readers. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since 1999 in terms of “edgy” or “controversial” YA books, so it’s possible that the impact of the explicit or implied events in Chbosky’s novel are somewhat softened by comparison. Regardless, it’s still a book that successfully captures the way these topics are internalised by the protagonist, and it’s evidently a voice that continues to engage and move its more recent audience. Basically, it’s not strictly the topics that appeal, so much as the manner in which they’re approached and discussed. That said, there is a lot going on in this book, and I have to wonder whether the sheer breadth of the issues touched upon lessens the strength of the story. And not in the sense that I think the events are unrealistic, necessarily, but more that (and I offer this opinion with some trepidation) at times Perks reads like it’s a bit in love with its own moroseness. The novel’s gaze is so relentlessly self-involved that I can’t help but feel that there is something indulgent in its tone, which I was not enamoured with. Whether “wallflower” is a strictly accurate descriptor for Charlie is a topic I’ve seen expanded upon in other reviews, and I won’t go into that much here. Charlie is evidently an introvert, allegedly “gifted”, who has a rich and consuming inner world, but I think it’s clear that there is more at play here than simple shyness, intellectually and socially speaking. While some of Charlie’s emotional state is explained at the end of the novel, I feel that there’s even more to Charlie than Chbosky ever reveals, hinted at by the apparent naivety of his fifteen / sixteen years.What I did appreciate, and what ultimately caused me to like this book, was how accurately Charlie’s experiences with anxiety and depression were presented. Prior to this, I hadn’t read a book that so closely mirrored the physical and emotional manifestation of anxiety as I am familiar with it. The deeply unsettling sensation of nebulous tentacles of panic radiating out in search of something to fixate on, of instability and uncontrolled sadness, honestly made me feel nauseous. I can’t help but wish I’d had this book in my hands when I was teenager, when it probably would have meant the world to me. Anxiety is an incredibly frightening and isolating condition, and I think this book communicates that very truthfully. The sensation of being a spectator of life, rather than a participant in it, is all too relevant and close-to-home for many who have experienced a mental illness in some form. It’s probably no surprise then, that I found Chobsky’s characterisation one of the highlights of this book. From Charlie himself as the narrator, through the supporting cast, I felt that I knew who these people were, that they were real. (It actually makes me curious to see the film adaptation, and how the nuances and subtleties of the characters translate to the screen). I can’t say that I’ll be joining the ranks of dedicated, vocal fans of The Perks of a Wallflower, leaving a trail of quotes in my wake across the internet. But I am quietly appreciative of this book, and the powerful, unique experience of reading it. You can read Shirley Marr's extremely awesome take on this book here. Prepare for your daily cup of radness to runneth over. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~At Shirley’s request:Ode to a Readalong (or I’m Sorry I Abandoned You Shirley) (or This Poem Is Too Cool To Rhyme)I tried to be a hipster todayBut they said my haircut wasn’t cool enoughSo I guess it’s back to being a real nerdInstead of a pretend oneThen I thought I'd read The Perks of Being a WallflowerIn my scarf with my fixie-riding friend ShirleyTurn up my Smiths record really loudAnd contemplate my infinitenessBut my mockery proved empty, hollow like my heartI wept bitter tears as I turned each pageTrapped in a glass cage of emotionAs I realised I will never be hipEver.Shirley & Reynje's Hipsterific Readalong - Coming in 2012Miss Shirley, get your scarf on! I'm waiting for you..(in the meantime, I'll be listening to bands that are so cool they don't even exist yet.)