One thing that I really enjoyed about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky is that was an easy read with some very philosophical thoughts.  At first, I questioned Charlie’s voice.  He’s only supposed to be fifteen years old and sometimes he comes off as so much younger.  For example, consider this exchange between Charlie and his gay friend Patrick after Charlie has eaten his first marijuana brownie at a party and caught Patrick kissing the high school quarterback.

Patrick then took me out of the room and closed the door.  He put his hands on both of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye.

“Brad doesn’t want people to know.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s scared.”

“Why?”

“Because he is…wait…are you stoned?”

“They said I was downstairs.  Sam is making me a milkshake.”

Patrick tried to keep from laughing.

“Listen, Charlie.  Brad doesn’t want people to know.  I need you promise you won’t tell anyone.  This will be our little secret.  Okay?”

“Okay.”

When I read this, my mental image of Charlie became that of a ten or eleven year old.  The way Patrick speaks to him, calling the incident our little secret, making the sentences very simple, is the way one might speak to a confused child.  Charlie’s perceived youth and inexperience is further reinforced by the way that Sam tries to help Charlie through being stoned by getting him ice cream.

The age gap between Patrick and Charlie seems so vast.  But it isn’t really.  Charlie is fifteen and turns sixteen during the school year.  Patrick is a senior, making him seventeen or eighteen.  Two to three years difference and yet Patrick and most of his friends treat Sam like their babysitting a very precocious child.

At the same time, the whole book is told from Charlie’s point of view.  We know what he’s thinking and we know that he’s very capable of understanding things.  He seems to have a particular interest in the motivations of the people around him.  Consider this scene where Charlie is watching his grandfather as the family views a VCR tape of his older brother playing college football:

My grandfather was crying.

The kind of crying that is quiet and a secret.  The kind of crying that only I noticed.  I thought about him going into my mom’s room when she was little and hitting my mom and holding up her report card and saying her bad grades would never happen again.  And I think now that maybe he meant my older brother.  Or my sister.  Or me.  That he would make sure he was the last one to work in a mill.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I don’t know if it’s better to have your kids happy and not go to college.  I don’t know if it’s better to be close with your daughter or make sure she has a better life than you do.  I just don’t know.  I was quiet and I watched him.

So the writing style is very simple, right?  No crazy vocabulary.  No complex sentences.  In fact just about every other sentence is a fragment.  Simple words.  Short, clipped thoughts.  Huge, deep idea.

We could have a whole philosophical discussion on those two paragraphs alone!  And these sorts of conundrums and questions are peppered through the whole book.  These are some astute observations from someone who is at a time of life when so many thoughts are turned inward.  In fact, despite the way people treat him, Charlie seems to have the maturity of someone much older than sixteen.

This representation of Charlie’s interactions juxtaposed against his thoughts does something very interesting: without ever telling you that Charlie is a brilliant, innocent, unique teenager, you get that strong impression.  He brings out the protective nature of the people around him.  He gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.  He empathizes.  Rather than putting Charlie in gifted classes and having adults talk about how smart he is, the reader experiences the reality of Charlie’s intelligence through the way he thinks about his friends and family.  This book was one of the most poignant examples of showing instead of telling that I’ve read in a long time.  And for this, I applaud Mr. Chbosky.

I hope you enjoyed this deconstruction.  If you read THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, I hope you’ll let me know how you enjoyed it and if you got any insights that I didn’t think of.  Until Wednesday!

That great image is by Filomena Scalise and I got it from freedigitalphotos.net.

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