The Perks of Being a Wallflower has admittedly been quite rightfully dubbed "the hipster book," however the name puts it in a box that just doesn't do it justice. There is so much more to this book than a bunch of outcast, 90's kids driving through tunnels and listening to mixed tapes of 80's bands. It's the type of book that has no value if you just take it at face value. It delves deeply into the loss of innocence, the quiet suffering of everyday people, and what our lives now mean in the big picture of who we are and what we will become in a way that uncannily parallels that in The Catcher in the Rye. Perks of Being a Wallflower starts on the main character, Charlie's, first day of high school with a letter to be the first in a series that comprises the book, to an anonymous person that Charlie heard "would understand things." The book follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school as he experiences his first kiss, first relationship, first party, and the first time he ever felt he had a place he belonged among his peers, all from his first person point of view through these letters. The running stream of consciousness very similar to that in Catcher in the Rye and the similarities between the two go far beyond just writing style. Take the two main characters, Charlie from Perks and Holden from Catcher. They're both fifteen and in a period of transition, Charlie entering high school and Holden being kicked out of one for the third time. They've had to deal with traumatic loss at a very young age and in families that don't care to openly talk or share their feelings. This has come to affect both Holden and Charlie in a very similar way in that they've turned in on themselves to handle the loss that, as young kids, they didn't have the experience to healthfully deal with. Holden has completely shut off in school, and keeps distant relations with the people he knows. Charlie constantly losses himself in books, to the point he is almost vicariously living his life through the characters. Clearly both methods are no proper way to grieve a serious loss, and from that a reader notice's very similar symptoms from what would presumably be a mental illness, most likely depression. The correlation between these two characters doesn't just stop there.
Anyone who's read Catcher in the Rye would know Holden's absolute favorite word throughout the book is "phony." It's his ultimate excuse for turning people away, a box in his mind where ninety-nine percent of the human population fits comfortably and he immediately shoves anyone who he doesn't come off liking at their first encounter. He makes no attempt to reach out to other people's emotions or appreciate the complexities and challenges in other people's lives. The loss of his little brother he cared so dearly for and the lack of care shown from his parents has reared him short in compassion, and after such a terrible loss the thought of letting people in and becoming emotionally attached is probably quite scary, so "phony" is his excuse, claiming everyone else is the issue rather than accepting the fact that he has a problem. The build up of all these unhealthy feelings, topped with mourning the loss of his innocence and the prospect of mental illness is what eventually leads Holden to a mental breakdown. At the end of it all, Holden concludes the story with the decision before him to either work to integrate into society and lead a normal life, or continue shut in himself, unable to handle the real world. This is where the story with Charlie begins. Through the book, Charlie continuously hints at his experiences the previous year leading up to and holding some sort of "Holden-esque" melt down, he refers to as when he was "bad," landing him in the mental facilities of a hospital, presumably like the one Holden ended up at. High school is supposed to be Charlie's chance to start fresh after the incident and hopefully try something new. It's Charlie's english teacher that tells him he should try and "participate" or actually interact with people rather than just observe them or push them away. It's with his goal to participate we see Charlie start to come out of himself and connect with other people, something we are left wondering whether or not will ever happen with Holden. Right away, Charlie meets Sam and Patrick, two seniors and step siblings. Patrick becomes Charlie' s best friend, Sam, his ultimate love interest and both will adopt him into their group of friends. With his new group of friends and the chance to get out into the world, Charlie starts to see the battles other people are fighting in their everyday lives, much like his own and his family's, giving him a new depth in perspective of the world and all the people around him. He then, in becoming more aware of himself and the world around him, is able to fully acknowledge and accept the fact that he has an issue and even makes attempts to try to get to the bottom of it. Ultimately it appears to me Charlie is the Holden we never got to see, who went back to school and gave his best to make something meaningful out of his life.
There's honestly so much more I could say I could say about Perks of Being a Wallflower and how it corresponds to Catcher in the Rye, there are so many connections between the two, but I don't think I'd have the space, and you probably wouldn't have the patience considering this reads more like an essay than a blog. Obviously I LOVED both the books on so many different levels. I would HIGHLY recommend Perks of Being a Wallflower to anyone who liked Catcher in the Rye and to any teenager, even if you've read Catcher in the Rye and didn't really like it. I found in talking to people who had read both, quite a few who had read Catcher in the Rye and didn't like it still liked Perks because Charlie, in general, is a much more likable character than Holden and it's easier for the reader to understand Charlie's emotions and actions. However, if you didn't like how Catcher in the Rye was written with a flow of thoughts you probably wouldn't like Perks of Being a Wallflower. The thing I liked most about Perks of Being a Wallflower was it wasn't just a plot to follow along with, I had to really internalize Charlie's personality and the way he saw things to get a clear picture of what was going on in the story. Charlie's unusual behavior and thoughts had me not just reading, but looking for clues as to what really was wrong with Charlie, how did the things that happened to him lead him to get this way, and what did the author want me to take away from all the little things Charlie noticed and all the tangent thoughts he had? The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn't a light read, but in my opinion is definitely a book worth reading, and may even be one of my favorite books of all time.
Do you know what I mean when I say a book that has no value if you just take it at face value? Do you know of any other books like that? Please feel free to discuss.