The Perks of having read "The Perks"

I read “The Perks of being a Wallflower” in Grade 11 when a very close friend of mine recommended it to me. I fell in love with the book the minute I started reading it. And later, he gifted me the same book on my 18th birthday. I’ve read the book repeatedly ever since. Most of the situations and events described in the book are alien to me, in the sense that, I’ve never been to a High School Dance, or a Party, or driven a car with my friends back in school. American High School is very different from its Indian counterpart, especially since I studied in a small city called Kochi in Kerala, which cannot even be compared to bigger cities in India itself, like Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore. However, the feelings and emotions that kids go through, are the same Everywhere.

The story doesn’t have a main plot, or isn’t leading upto something major, much like “Catcher in the Rye”. It simply describes Charlie’s first year in High School, his friends, some situations his friends and family go through and so on. The book is written in epistolary format with letters addressed to an anonymous “Friend”. These letters are deeply personal, like pages from a diary. It is written in the very plain and simple language of a 15/16 year old. And though it is in the form of multiple letters, the chain of events is very clear and the flow is smooth. Through the letters, Charlie talks about some good, plain and bad days in his life, new experiences and how he deals with them. The book discusses main YA themes like love, friendship, sex, drug abuse, alcohol, smoking, teenage pregnancies, and so on and has been on American Library Association’s List of banned books in school libraries, multiple times for these reasons.  The only main plot twist could be the final reveal of how Charlie’s Aunt Helen used to molest him as a kid and how that led to subconscious trauma and the sexual impact it had on Charlie’s life. Something I found very significant in the book, especially in terms of content, was how Charlie describes a scene from his childhood when he witnessed a “Popular” guy raping his girlfriend. He does not realize what was happening when it was happening. He later narrates this incident to his friend Sam, and realizes what had actually happened and how he couldn’t do much about it because the couple was still “very much in love and very much popular” and that’s how things are sometimes and the harsh reality hit me in that moment, as much as it hit Charlie.

The characters are described beautifully. The author described how these people were the way they were, instead of just painting a picture of them through mere physical description. From the way Charlie writes, we can understand what a sensitive, different, weird, awkward, kind, helpful, complex and wonderful person he is. Charlie talks about his why his parents are the way they are in the most precise way that I can ever imagine, telling us what happened to them when they were kids, and imagining what they must have felt when they were growing up, and finally why they became the type of parents they were. I haven’t read better and more relatable descriptions of parents and family in any other YA book I have read so far. The English teacher Mr. Anderson is another important character in Charlie’s life and hence in the book as well. He identifies how unique and special Charlie is and tries to nurture him by giving him additional books to read, and making him write more essays on them and so on. All the friends described could be people who you see in school or hang out with every day. They are normal teenagers with flaws, insecurities and issues. Sam and Patrick in particular are talked about in great detail as they become Charlie’s best friends. The girl Sam, is very different from clich├ęd female characters in other YA books. She wants to re-discover herself before she leaves for college and is very nice to Charlie and her friends. She has a wild side to her but is also tender at moments. Patrick is an extremely fun, quirky, dramatic yet charming guy who is also going through dark emotional times and struggles to cope with it. Sam and Patrick are seniors and they are the ones who introduces Charlie into actual High School life and who makes him realise the importance of participating and not just observing.

Now to my favourite part; Why I love this book so much and how this book influenced and affected me. I think it would be in the spirit of this book if I wrote this next part in the form of a letter. So here goes.

Dear Friend,
I love “The Perks of being a Wallflower” for inexplicable reasons. But I’ll still try to write down some which come to mind, at the moment. Everything is so relatable and it doesn’t trivialize teenage problems. It doesn’t trivialize any problem as a matter of fact. To quote Charlie, “And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have”. Sometimes, I feel very stupid when I spend time thinking about things like life, love and what it means to be young and how conflicted and confusing my views are, about everything. Because people tell us that we need to “feel” about things that matter, like politics and poverty. And it’s important to care about these things too, but Stephen Chbosky told me that what I am doing, is perfectly normal. And I’ve come to realise that these things are as important as saving the world, because only once you save yourself, can you save the world.

Charlie told me that emotions and feelings are not irrelevant and frivolous, these are the things that make us who we are. And reading this book made me feel like I belong. “And there are people who forget  what’s it’s like to be 16, the moment they turn 17” and forget how hard it was to have your heart broken and have to hand in two assignments and write 3 quizzes the same day, but through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky told me that it was okay, that things will get better. And I think it’s harder here in India, because relationships and dating are still mostly happening without parent’s knowledge, and so on a bad day, they cannot be counted on to help us because we have to keep them in the dark about these things. He also talks about how beautifully messed up families can be and how fascinating it is that sometimes, “Everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other”. And that struck a chord with me.

Stephen Chbosky told me it’s all right to be introverted as long as I participated in life. Charlie told me that people have back stories, flaws, insecurities, histories that they never want to be reminded of, “But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there”. So I want to thank Sam for giving me such good music to listen to, and Mr Anderson for giving me such good books to read and movies to watch. Books, movies, music are so much more than just entertainment for Teenagers. They shape our ideas, our dreams, help us get through bad times and make good times even more fun. They make us feel as young and invincible as we should feel. I want to thank Stephen Chbosky for writing this wonderful book, also making it into a wonderful movie, and for letting me know that there are people who know, who understand and who were going through the same things. And I also want to thank the boy who gave me the book, because it helped me get through some difficult times.

So last weekend I was going out with my friends and we were all in a car and I was looking out into this beautiful City thinking to myself how lucky I am to live here, and I turned around to my friends who themselves were going through some bad days in their lives and we were all unhappy and unsatisfied about things. But at that moment when I looked around, we were just laughing about how nice it was, about how young we are, about how we were doing such “college” things and how much fun we were having. And we were just laughing. And in that moment, I swear, we were infinite.

Love Always,

Vandana.