The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is what I would like to call on my must read in my lifetime books. These are classics and are up there with the likes of Harry Potter and Narnia. They are the books that must be read at least once, the ones that I pause because of a wistful sigh and thoughtful stare.
“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
One thing that is different from my normal reading habits is the format; therapeutic letters that Charlie writes to an unnamed friend. He depicts the life of a teenager. He is afraid of starting high school. Plus, he is trying to deal with the recent suicide of his only friend and death of his beloved aunt. Okay it may not be the life of most teenagers but you can certainly identify with him in some way or another. But the format does have its downfalls as it can feel as a stretch at times, especially when it comes to conveying long passages of dialogue. With one point of view you leave some things out that could be achieved by a third person story-like structure. But this configuration is refreshing and different. Even more jarring is Charlie’s voice. Journal and letter writing is very casual and intimate. Couple that with a teenager’s unpolished writing, and some readers will likely find the prose awkward or new and untried.
Charlie is more than a little lost. His shy, introspective ways stem from various psychological issues which are revealed as the story progresses. By the end of the story, it does indeed seem like Charlie has experienced every element of teenage angst imaginable, such as trying LSD and other drugs, aiding in an abortion, and feeling unrequited love. Conflicts abound, perhaps more than some deem believable, but the onslaught of issues really is true to many teens’ lives.
“Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.”
The film production of the novel rectifies some of the downsides of the novel. Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, is a little funnier, a little bolder, and wallows a little less. This is because we are not stuck in Charlie’s head through the entire film like we are with the novel and we get to see the charming way he extrapolates conversations out with his friends. He occasionally alludes to all the weirdo things going through his head, but because this isn’t the only side of Charlie we are able to see, the audience’s mental state is more relaxed, as well. But besides that the onscreen depiction does reflect the books character which is quite important because he is such a focal point.
However, the film can’t fix some blemishes of the story itself. At times it may feel like the characters are too one-dimensional: the clichéd gay friend, the well-intentioned English teacher, the racist grandfather. Yet, part of growing up is learning how to deal with the stereotypes all people try to apply to one another. Charlie’s therapist encourages him to participate, and he eventually comes to a better understanding of why people need something in their lives worth living for.
In addition the film is not without its flaws itself. One of these flaws is that Charlie’s last present to Patrick at Christmas, that suicidal, heart-wrenching poem, is cut out. The poem doesn’t matter so much to the plot. It’s too long to be read in its entirety on screen and I get that, but it’s an important moment for Charlie and his friendship with Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth, Alice, and Bob. The film isn’t worse without the poem Charlie reads, but audiences may still find themselves missing it. I would’ve liked to see it because to me it provided a circular motion to dealing with dealing with the suicide presented at the beginning of the novel and Charlie’s feelings at varying points.
“Everyone else is either asleep or having sex. I've been watching cable television and eating jello.”
Despite his imperfections, Charlie’s endearing qualities creep into the reader’s heart. You just can’t not love him. He always gets his acquaintances the perfect gift, he loves his mom very much, and he tries to be a good friend. Toward the end of the book, his love interest tells him, “’You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.’” I just want to hug him but I can’t because he’s fictional.
Overall, by keeping all of the important moments in Charlie’s timeline and showing us more about our favorite side characters onscreen, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wildflower is a wildly enjoyable film and book. Both works perfectly succeed in capturing the ache and grandeur of growing up in the suburbs in the early nineties. I was happy to see some of my favorite characters fleshed out with Ezra Miller’s Patrick bringing great comedic timing in the film, and in the book I was overjoyed with how each and every character came to terms with themselves. Overall, it’s a tossup regarding whether the book or movie is the better endeavor. Despite both having nearly the same plot, there are elements in both versions that make each unique. I’m glad that both the movie and the book exist, and that’s a rare thing.
I don’t think that you should miss out on an experience with either one of them or both.
“But because things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.”