One of the interesting things about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky is that I can’t really talk about any one character as a stand-alone entity without considering how they relate to others.  This hasn’t been true in most of the other books I’ve analyzed.  I believe that adolescence is a time that feels so solitary that crating loner characters is almost reflexive.  We see that in SPEAK, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, INDIGARA, TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, and even THE HUNGER GAMES to a point.  Not so in PERKS.

The main character is Charlie and since I described him a little in the last post, I’m going to talk about the secondary characters first.  Patrick is Charlie’s, closest friend.  I can give a list of descriptive that would give an image of the character: friendly, loyal, gay, outrageous, intellectual, and sensitive.  However, the character really becomes round and real when we watch him relate to others.  He’s a joker around his step-sister.  He’s a sensitive romantic around the high school quarterback.  He’s an over-the-top ham when he’s playing Frank-N-Furter from THE ROCKEY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (Which, if you’ve never seen live, I highly recommend).  Furthermore, when the guy Patrick’s in love with turns on him, he has a very realistic and very painful breakdown.  I don’t know about you, but these are emotions that are very familiar to me.  And it’s not just how Patrick reacts, but it’s also the way his personality seems to shift depending on who he’s around.

On the other hand, Sam, Patrick’s step-sister and Charlie’s crush, is a stronger character.  She’s consistent no matter who she is around.  Like Patrick, I could describe her in a few words: attractive, protective, tough, and loving.  But, yet again, the author best reveals Sam through her relationships with others.  She kisses Charlie because she wants his first kiss to be from someone who loves him, even though they are not romantically involved.  She’s patient and honest with Charlie when he confesses his crush.  And when she feels that someone has been wronged–whether it’s Charlie being mistreated or Charlie doing the mistreating–she has the same outraged reaction.

Here’s something interesting: Charlie has a brother and a sister in this book and they aren’t given names.  They are solely defined by their relationships as “my brother” and “my sister”.  I usually don’t like gimmicky things like this but honestly, it’s so well done that I didn’t even notice until I did a re-read.

So that brings us to Charlie, who is like water: he fits whatever container he’s poured into.  His sister needs a shoulder to cry on?  Charlie can do that.  Sam just wants to be friends?  Charlie can do that.  Patrick needs someone to go to the gay hook-up site with him.  Charlie can do that.  The only character that notices is steadfast Sam who says at the end of the book:

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

She tells him to be active and the moment he does, he has a life-altering break-through.  He discovers that all of his strange little quirks–his uncontrolled crying, his obsession with gifts, and his unusual attitudes around sex–are a reaction to events from his past.  And the puzzle that is Charlie starts to make a whole lot more sense.  So much so, that it makes you want to read the book all over again.

Finally, it’s worth it to mention that this book is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Although it could have been set just about anywhere, there is one feature to Pittsburgh that Mr. Chboski used beautifully as a metaphor in the story.  As you travel to Pittsburgh from the north, it’s pretty bleak.  Then you come to the Fort Pitt Tunnels.  When you exit the tunnels, the city of Pittsburgh is right in front of you.  It’s like you’re in Oz; the world is suddenly in color again.  That’s like Charlie’s journey in this book.  It’s bleak until he bursts out of his own tunnel and then the world is in color again.  It’s pretty cool.

Clearly, I could go on and on (and on and on) about the characters in the book.  In fact I would like to because the plotting may very well have me stumped.  Let’s see what I can come up with before Friday.  Until then…have a great week.

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