Ninth-grader (Form Three in Hong Kong) Charlie is a wallflower. Intelligent but timid and socially awkward, he stands on the edge of life, looking inside and thinking too much, instead of just diving in and getting on with it. His friends seem to be grabbing life with both hands and enjoying everything it has to offer. Charlie prefers to watch them. Or does he?
Charlie has accepted his position of social outcast without question. Now he's starting his first year of American high school, and he's more nervous than even he thought he'd be. His elder brother is a successful sports star and has gone off to college and will surely have a successful college career. Charlie's sister is a senior (Form Six) this year, and it would seriously damage her image to be seen associating with a little brother who is somewhere between a freak and a geek.
So Charlie is left on his own, and can only watch and wait on the sidelines. It's safe, but even Charlie has to admit it can be boring and sometimes extremely lonely.
Charlie has recently had to face up to the deaths of both his best friend and favourite aunt. He gets through by working hard at school and reading a lot. But reading and writing are no substitutes for taking part, and Charlie longs for true friendship and the courage to move away from the wall and to the middle of the dance floor.
Stephen Chbosky's coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower captures all the ups and downs of teenage angst, confusion and happiness with great affection, involvement and wit. The book consists of a series of letters Charlie writes to an unknown person during his first year at high school. Chbosky cleverly gets us readers to assume we're reading the letters, and we get to know Charlie and cheer him on.
The main part of Charlie's narrative concerns his relationship with two new schoolmates, Patrick and his sister Sam, free spirits who take Charlie under their wing and encourage him to become his own person and grab at life. Charlie falls in love with Sam - another problem that he could well do without.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a highly entertaining and accurate portrait of the growing pains of a sensitive and introverted teen. It covers the issues and emotions modern teens have to face, and is beautifully written and perceptively observed. This is a book that could very well become the favourite teenage read of the year.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]