The Perks of Being a Wallflower

In the past, my unspoken philosophy on entertainment has been pretty simple: keep it light, keep it clean, and stay away from anything depressing.  Recently I discovered a piece of literature that breaks all those rules.

And I love it.

perks of being a wallflower movieFor some reason, in the past few weeks I have found myself wanting to read The Perks of Being a Wildflower.  I honestly can’t explain why.  It is a book I have definitely known about for a while, yet for some reason it was only recently that I felt any desire to read it.  And I don’t think I could have read it at a better time.  Seriously, it was almost like I needed to read this book at this specific point in my life.  That might sound cheesy and clichéd, but oh well.

At a slick 213 pages, Perks held my interest from start to finish.  The book is written as a series of letters from the perspective of the main character Charlie.  From the first page, I found myself connecting to this fictitious character as if he were an actual person.

Early in his first letter, Charlie writes:

“So, this is my life.  And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

What follows these poignant words is an emotional roller coaster that has completely changed my perspective on literature, life, and myself.

I can’t say I relate to Charlie’s specific experiences.  I have never (to my knowledge) eaten a “special” brownie, nor have I had a close friend commit suicide.  But his way of dealing with life and the people around him, his capacity to love despite all the hurt he has experienced, as well as his feeling that there’s “something wrong with him”–that’s something I can relate to.  Maybe all of us can, to a certain extent.

And it’s not just Charlie who makes this book so easy to relate to.  All of these characters are vividly, painfully real.  High school is a time of self-discovery, and these kids are struggling to find their way in a difficult world.  And isn’t that what all of us are doing?  I think that’s probably why so many people can relate to this book.

So the first few days of this week involved me reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower whenever I could find time in my hectic schedule.  Then the day after I finished reading, I went to Red Box and rented the movie.  And the movie was one of the best book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen, which I guess isn’t all too surprising since the author of the book (Stephen Chbosky) wrote the screenplay and directed the film.

The movie did a perfect job capturing the emotions of the book.  If you never get around to reading the book, I would definitely recommend watching the movie–if only for the opportunity to see Hermione Granger speaking with an American accent (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  But if you can, read the book too.  There are some explicit passages and foul language that I could have done without, but the underlying message of the novel is a message of hope, as stated in the final pages:

“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.”

Some of us have come from troubled families; others have come from troubled circumstances.  Everyone has made mistakes.  We can’t go back and change the past, and we can’t always control everything that will happen in the future.  But no matter what, we never have to let our past determine our future.  It is up to us to choose what path we take in life.  Nobody can ever take that away from us, no matter what happens.  And in the darkest of times, we can still find ways to be happy and “feel infinite,” just like the characters in this story.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower may not meet my usual requirements of keeping it light and staying away from anything depressing.  But it gave me the chance to sympathize with the characters, to feel their pain, and to (almost) cry with them.  In doing this, the book brought me a sense of comfort.  It was like therapy.  Sometimes it’s good to face reality, even in fiction.  Reading (or watching) a story that deals with real-life problems can add a sense of normality to the difficulties we face, which can help us feel not so… alone.

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