Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Title:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author:  Stephen Chbosky
Publisher:  MTV Books (who even knew there was such a thing!)
Pages:  213
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  9th Grade and Up

Plot Summary:
Charlie is a 15 year old high school freshman living in Pennsylvania.  His brother is a football star, his sister is pretty and popular, and he is...well, he is something else altogether.  His unique perspective on family, love, and friendship are shared through letters that he writes to an unknown someone.  Charlie feels most comfortable in the "quiet", and is merely an observer in life until he meets Patrick (who is having a secret relationship with the quarterback), Sam (who Charlie falls deeply in love with), and their group of quirky friends.  Even as he experiences his first cigarette, his first drink, his first pot, his first date, his first dance, and his first Rocky Horror Picture Show, he feels like an outsider looking in-a wallflower, observing but not participating fully.  When he finally gets a chance at what he thinks he wants, he realizes that until he deals with the reason for his reserve, his sadness, and his anger he will never be a full participant in life.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a tribute to all counter-culture, disaffected novels for youth everywhere.  Chobsky makes no effort to hide his influences, giving the fictional Charlie a teacher who assigns him Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, Naked Lunch, and The Stranger as reading assignments.  In their tradition, Charlie and his friends are at once desperate for a feeling of belonging while at the same time rejecting anything that smacks of the conformity that would make them belong.  Patrick, Sam, and the rest are a perfect backdrop for Charlie,  who is about as unconventional as they come.  He is almost paralyzed by the fear of doing something wrong, and as a result does almost nothing at all, becoming a mirror for his friends without ever showing much of his true self.  It is clear long before the big reveal at the end that something is just not right with Charlie-he gets so angry playing sports his parents made him quit, he gets so sad that he can't function, he's been in and out of hospitals-add the hormones of a 15 year old and it's no wonder he was an emotional wreck.

Sometimes the portrayal of Charlie is a little too on-the-nose, but despite some of the criticisms I've read of this book, there are kids like Charlie out there.  Chobsky creates in this book a doorway for today's youth to discover and appreciate the same malaise that previous generations got from Catcher in the Rye.  Is this book as good as CITR, well, no.  But as homages go it is pretty good.

Teacher Resources:

Mr. Jeffrey's Lesson Plans (scroll down the page)

WebEnglishTeacher Anticipation Guide 

Young Adult Review-Teaching Controversial Texts 

YA Lit Gourley 

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