I haven’t really mentioned this on my blog, but I hate CATCHER IN THE RYE.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know.  It’s a classic.  It captures the adolescent trauma of being alienated and misunderstood.  Nonsense, I say.  Holden Caulfield was a whiner and no writer ever got so much acclaim for the portrayal of a less interesting teenager.  I have tried reading this book every five years or so since high school thinking I might grow into it.  Nope.  I still hate it.  So, when I heard that Stephen Chbosky drew from CATHER IN THE RYE as his inspiration for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, I was all set and ready to hate that book, too.

How wrong I was.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky (shortened to “PERKS” by the students who have loved the book) was published in 1999.  Since then, it’s been on the top 10 list of most frequently challenged books by the American Library Association five times.  In Fayetteville, Arkansas it was challenged, along with 34 other books, as objectionable in an attempt to remove it from the school libraries there.  I’m not going to lie.  This book has some adult themes.  I would recommend this for the older end of young adult.  But I do recommend it.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is told from the point of view of a character who calls himself “Charlie”.  It’s an epistolary story, told in a series of anonymous letters.  Charlie is assumed name and he makes it clear that he only knows the recipient of the letters by reputation.  And if you think this is odd, Charlie is just getting started.  PERKS is the story of Charlie’s first year of high school.  His best friend committed suicide the year before, his social group has dissolved, and he finds himself lonely and confused in this new high school setting.  The thing that makes this story so charming is that Charlie is one of the most likeable main characters I’ve ever read (I almost wrote “met” there).  He’s too smart for his own good and incredibly sensitive.  He has a strongly developed sense of honor and fair-play.  He’s the kind of kid you’d like to know.

In his loneliness, he luckily falls in with a free-thinking, drug-using, pre-college group of friends who appreciate him for the strange little guy he is.  As the school year passes he struggles with the pain and hardships he sees going on around him: his sister’s abusive relationship, his closest friend’s traumatic gay relationship, his family’s complicated problems, and the painful relationships of the girl he loves.

About ten pages into this book my heart started to literally ache for Charlie and it hasn’t stopped yet.  I was grateful that he finds friends who accept him.  It hurts me that his family doesn’t get him.  I wanted to befriend this character because I wanted to have the experience of knowing him better.  And I still sit here and wonder what I would think if I had been the recipient of those anonymous letters.

So, next time I’m going to tackle the characters and setting of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.  I’ve already told you a bit about Charlie, so I’ll probably focus on the more peripheral characters.  Each one is interesting and I can’t wait to explore this book with you!

That great image is by Filomena Scalise and I found it on freedigitalphotos.net.

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