The Perks of Being a WallflowerTuesday, 25 March 2008
One of the remaining perks of using MySpace* is that I occasionally stumble across a recommendation for a really good band, film or book. A sort of reward for sifting through all the friend requests from women with other photos just a click away, blokes who have ‘a great marketing idea’ or R'n'B artists who make the first two categories look relatively attractive. I started noticing a lot of people recommending The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. People who liked the sort of books I liked. So I investigated and was well rewarded. Here’s the story.....
Our local bookstore is closing down. The short term good news was that I got to walk around dribbling over a wonderful selection of books all being sold off at half price. The longer term bad news is one less independent bookstore. Being a North American book, I had a choice between ordering it from bookstore chain Waterstone’s or tracking it down on the internet. For a while, I toyed with the idea of going to Asad (“part of the War-Mart Family/Empire”) and winding them up by asking to see the manager in charge of literature, but in the end I just couldn’t be bothered.
THE MARMITE BOOK
Published in 1999, this book has been very widely reviewed as well as being the subject of major controversy over its inclusion and subsequent exclusion from various school reading lists in the US. Like the people who’ve tasted Marmite, readers of the book seem to fall easily into two distinctly separate groups – those who love it and those who loathe it. On the rare occasions when conservatives and liberals get bored with fighting over Roe v Wade, I suspect The Perks of Being a Wallflower gives rise to some interesting debates. For that reason, I’ll try to stick to a brief summary and my personal thoughts on the book.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written as a series of letters, dated from September 1991 to June 1992, from a boy called Charlie, a teenager living in a suburb of Pittsburgh, USA. The beauty of the book emanates from his character, an introverted and disarmingly honest boy, the wallflower of the title. Sometimes I wanted to scream at him to be less honest, to protect him from disaster and other characters from confrontation with the blunt truth. At other times I wanted to sweep him up in my arms and protect him from all the pain, both the self-inflicted variety and the stuff caused by people in a world gone wrong.
SEX AND DRUGS (AND BOOKS) AND ROCK’N’ROLL
The overarching theme of the book is growing up but it also deals with introversion, infatuation, sexuality, drug use, depression and the power of music and literature to inspire. Other characters include Bill, an English teacher who feeds Charlie with classic literature, Sam, the object of Charlie’s youthful yearnings, Mary Elizabeth, an intense character who’s his first girlfriend and Patrick, an older boy Charlie covets as a good friend. It’s Patrick who describes Charlie as a wallflower, explaining to him that, “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” On the fringes are others like Brad, the closet gay and school football star, and Bob, for whom life appears to be just an inconvenient interruption to his drug taking.
As a parent, I guess I can understand some people’s concerns over the suitability of some of the book’s themes for younger people. The themes, however, are the very ones with which today's young people must grapple as they grow up. To pretend that they don’t exist is to live in La La Land. For me, the key is my relationship with my kids. As long as I can get that right, I’ll be comfortable with them reading books like this at the appropriate age. As for me the reader, an adult who still thinks of himself as a teenager, I loved the book. It was a sweet and sour experience, reminding me of the joys and pains of my adolescent years. I’d recommend you treat yourself to a copy and can almost guarantee a Marmite experience. You’ll either eat it up with a passion or spit it out with distaste. Either way, let me know what you think!
*see A Waste of (My)Space