I just reviewed Becky Albertalli’s “Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda” and I’m not going to lie, I was reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” at the same time, and sometimes I had trouble telling the difference between them. And I mean that with every compliment, because, as I wrote in my “Simon” review, there’s a strong and important tradition of novels that normalize the alienation of adolescence, and the millions of forms that it can take. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an incredible brick in that road, and it’s equal parts important, and easy to understand why it was a banned book (related: fuck the banning of books).
If you saw the movie and didn’t like it (as I did), don’t worry about it. The novel plays out in letter form: Charlie writing to a stranger to tell him about his time as a freshman in high school, his close and unexpected friendships with some older students, a special teacher, and his family life. It’s a lot more nuanced than the film, which couldn’t help but work from the outside in, and doesn’t really land properly.
It’s incredibly personal, and sensitive, and raw. I really appreciated how honestly Charlie’s story comes through. I imagine that if he were writing in a journal, in the way that we sometimes lie to ourselves, there would be half-truths, but writing to a stranger as he does, he pulls no punches, and is completely transparent. It’s refreshing, and then, as we learn more about him (as he learns more about himself), incredibly sad, and, ultimately, uplifting.
Extra points for live Rocky Horror participation, and a kickass soundtrack that I could play in my head as I read.