The Perks of Being a Wallflower
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|Genre||Young adult novel/Epistolary novel|
|Publisher||MTV Books/Pocket Books|
|February 1, 1999|
|Media type||Print (Paperback) and Audiobook|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition paperback)
224 pp (regular edition paperback)
|LC Class||PS3553.H3469 P47 1999|
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age epistolary novel written by American novelist Stephen Chbosky, which has spent over a year on The New York Times Best Seller list and is published in 31 languages. It was first published on February 1, 1999, by MTV. The story is narrated by an introverted teenager who goes by the alias of "Charlie". He describes various life experiences through a series of letters to an anonymous stranger. In 2012, Chbosky, acting as director, adapted the novel into a film, which starred Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson.
Set in the early 1990s, the story follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school in a Pittsburgh suburb. Charlie is the eponymous wallflower of the novel. Intelligent beyond his years, he is an unconventional thinker; yet, as the story begins, it is revealed that Charlie is also shy and unpopular.
The book begins with a very quiet, emotionally sensitive, 15-year-old boy named Charlie writing letters to an unknown recipient about his life. He discusses his first year at high school, while grappling with two traumatic experiences from his past: the suicide of his only middle-school friend, Michael, a year before, as well as the death of his favorite aunt, Helen, during his early childhood.
Charlie's English teacher, Bill, notices Charlie's passion for reading and writing, and, throughout the novel, he assigns Charlie additional books and reports outside of the normal curriculum. Although Charlie is a wallflower, he is befriended by two exciting seniors: Patrick and Sam. Patrick is dating a closeted football player, Brad, in secret; Sam is Patrick's step-sister. Charlie avoids admitting that he is extremely attracted to Sam, who has a boyfriend. Charlie is absorbed into their group of friends and begins experiencing a vivid new life; he drinks alcohol, tries drugs, and even starts smoking. As he engages more with his new senior friends, he begins to control the traumatic flashbacks he has had about his aunt Helen, who apparently died in a car crash while on the way to buying him a birthday gift. Although she is in another relationship, Sam gives Charlie a single kiss when he tells her that he has never been kissed before.
After a member of the friend group, Mary Elizabeth, asks Charlie to their school's Sadie Hawkins dance, he reluctantly agrees to start a relationship with her, but soon dislikes how one-sided the relationship becomes. During a game of truth or dare, he is dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, and kisses Sam, which causes Mary Elizabeth to storm out and the rest of the group to alienate him. Patrick recommends that Charlie stay away from Sam for a while. Charlie's debilitating flashbacks return and he begins to see a psychiatrist for the second time in his life.
Meanwhile, Patrick and Brad's relationship is discovered by Brad's abusive father. The following day, during lunch, Patrick is heckled by the football players until even Brad joins in and calls Patrick a "faggot," causing Patrick to attack him. The football players team up against Patrick until Charlie intervenes and stops the fight, winning him respect among Sam and her friends once more. Patrick takes Charlie to a park where gay men come to engage in secret sexual activities; he kisses Charlie impulsively and then apologizes, but Charlie is understanding and supports Patrick in recovering from his broken romance with Brad.
As the school year comes to a close, Charlie feels anxiety over losing his older friends, especially Sam. Sam is preparing to leave for a pre-college summer program and has discovered that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Charlie helps Sam to pack and they discuss his feelings for her. She becomes angry that he never acted on his feelings. They make out, and as she touches his inner thigh, he becomes scared. Later, he sees her and his other friends off to college. The next day, Charlie is bombarded by memories of his aunt Helen touching him the way that Sam did.
In the epilogue, Charlie is discovered that night by his parents in a trance-like state and admitted to a mental hospital. It emerges that Helen sexually abused him when he was little, but his love for her (and empathy for her own troubled youth) caused him to repress these memories. After two months, he is released, and Sam and Patrick come to see him. Charlie comes to terms with his past, saying that "even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there". He stops writing letters and decides instead to "participate" in life. 
In the novel, Charlie's English teacher assigns him books to read. Charlie describes them all as his favorites.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- The Stranger by Albert Camus
- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
- This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The book references a book of poems by E. E. Cummings, The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts, a book by Anne Rice and an autobiography of a woman who was a character in Reds, most likely Emma Goldman. The poem "A Person/A Paper/A Promise" by Earl Reum is mentioned.
The novel references these films and TV series:
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- It's a Wonderful Life
- The Producers
- The Graduate
- Harold and Maude
- My Life as a Dog
- Dead Poets Society
- The Unbelievable Truth
- Night of the Living Dead
- Hannah and Her Sisters
- Saturday Night Live
The novel references these songs:
- "Asleep" by The Smiths
- "Blackbird" by The Beatles
- "MLK" by U2
- "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac (in the movie, the tunnel scene song is "Heroes" by David Bowie)
- "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
- "Vapour Trail" by Ride
- "Scarborough Fair" by Simon and Garfunkel
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum
- "Time of No Reply" by Nick Drake
- "Dear Prudence" by The Beatles
- "Gypsy" by Suzanne Vega
- "Nights in White Satin" by The Moody Blues
- "Daydream" by The Smashing Pumpkins
- "Dusk" by Genesis
- "Something" by The Beatles
- "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister
- "I'm Going Home", sung by Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" by Pink Floyd
Critics have identified some main themes to be teenage reality and nostalgia for adults. David Edelstein said that Chbosky captures the "feeling [that] you belong when among friends, yet you'd soon be alone" and notes that "the pain of loss... [is] almost as intense as the bliss." He believes "it's nostalgia with an emphasis on nostos, pain [sic]." Another critic, Marty Beckerman, said the reason why Perks connects with kids is that it's real[;] the situations that occur are "so universal and happen to so many teenagers."
Another main point Chbosky wanted to express was respect for teens. In an interview with Home Media Magazine, he said he wanted to "validate and respect and celebrate what [teenagers] are going through every day." Chbosky said that the novel is for "anyone who's felt like an outcast."
Perks is written as a series of letters from Charlie to an anonymous character. In an interview, Chbosky said that the progression of the story through letters "feels intimate" and is "like [Charlie] is talking to you."
Charlie is loosely based on Chbosky. In an interview, Chbosky said that "Charlie was [his] hope in the form of a character." Furthermore, he describes Charlie as the "closest [character] to [his] heart" in a separate interview.
For the other characters, Chbosky said he took "pieces of real people in [his] life." From that, he focused on people's struggles and things they are most passionate about and attempted to "hone in [on] the essence of each." For example, Sam was inspired by someone that Chbosky has an equal passion for as Charlie has for her; Patrick was inspired by a friend of his from college; Stewart Stern inspired Charlie's English teacher, Bill. The only completely fictional character was Mary Elizabeth, and Chbosky commented that he "thought about that person [who] had that much force of nature, and Mary Elizabeth was [his] response." He wanted the group he created to have "comfort in each other."
Chbosky said that the novel was written fairly quickly, given that he had two letters finished in a day, half of the novel in a month, and two drafts completed within a year of starting the project.
Perks of Being a Wallflower has been challenged due to its content. It has appeared on the American Library Association's list of the 10 most frequently challenged books 6 times in the past decade. Interviewer Marty Beckerman said the novel has been challenged "for its depictions of adolescent sexuality and drug use". In one instance, a Wisconsin school board declined the action to ban the book, angering local parents. The Glen Ellyn District 41 school board in suburban Chicago voted in a unanimous vote to reinstate the book after it was pulled from eighth-grade classrooms at Hadley Junior High School earlier due to a parent's objection to the book's sexual content.  In an interview, Chbosky stated that he knew of two specific school boards that have already banned the book, "Massachusetts and Long Island". Furthermore, Chbosky "didn't write it to be a controversial book" and is "surprised" that it has been banned.
Reviewers have said that Perks seems similar to J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Chbosky stated that he "was not trying to mimic his style as a writer". He sees "how readers could compare Charlie to Salinger's Holden Caulfield", but he thinks "they are very different people with unique problems and perspectives". Some of Chbosky's overall influences are J. D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams and Stewart Stern.
The idea of Perks came from when Chbosky was experiencing a rough time. He was going through a "bad breakup" that led him to need an answer to the question "why do such good people let themselves get treated so badly" and Charlie was his ultimate answer. Throughout an interview, Chbosky said his idea for the book started in school and grew from another book he was working on. The novel helped him to understand all the thoughts and feelings he has on the world and people, since he "see[s] life the way Charlie does."
Perks has a large audience ranging from five to seven million readers.
The production company Mr. Mudd developed the film adaptation of the novel, and Summit Entertainment distributed the film. Mr. Mudd's producers, John Malkovich, Lianne Halfon, and Russell Smith, hired the novel's author, Stephen Chbosky, to write an adapted screenplay and to direct the film. It was shot in Peters Township, Pennsylvania. The production starred Logan Lerman (Charlie), Nina Dobrev (Charlie's sister, named Candace in the film), Ezra Miller (Patrick), and Emma Watson (Sam). The film won the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature.
- Marty Beckerman. "An Interview with Stephen Chbosky". Word Riot. Word Riot. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- "The Perks of Being a Wallflower:Synopses & Reviews". Powell's City of Books. Powells.com. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- Chbosky, Stephen (1999). The Perks of Being a Wallflower,Pocket Books, New York. ISBN 9781419387241
- Edelstein, David (24 Sep 2012). "Freshman Disorientation; The Perks of being a Wallflower nails teenage alienation". New York. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- Beckerman, Marty. "An Interview with Stephen Chbosky". Word Riot. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Ratcliff, Ashley (18 Feb 2013). "'The perks of being' a filmmaker". Home Media Magazine. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- FanBoltCom. "Stephen Chbosky Talks 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' (1 of 3)". Youtube. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- CalPoly. "Stephen Chbosky on the Perks of Being a Wallflower". Youtube. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- "Surprise! Interview with Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky". The Book Fever. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- THEBIGFANBOY. "THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER - Interview with Stephen Chbosky (Writer/Director)". Youtube. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Wallace, James. "The Perks of Being A Wallflower writer/director Stephen Chbosky". Youtube. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Beisch, Ann (Dec 2001). "Interview with Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower". LA Youth. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Kristy Puchko (24 May 2012). "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Lands Release Date". Cinema Blend. Cinema Blend LLC. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- "Best Feature Film". IFC.com. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
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