I’ve rewritten this paragraph eleven times now. The first ten attempts were a sickening brew of overindulgence and sentimentality, a collection of verbal vomit brought on by an overwhelming desire to accurately express a euphoria that can only be described as embarrassing. I have no confidence in my ability to put this to paper without resorting to fawning adulation, so please just bear with me as I attempt to retain some semblance of credibility. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is orders of magnitude better than any young adult novel I have ever come across, and if you know anything about my opinions on the majority of YA you’ll understand that it’s all I can do to keep my head from exploding right now.
I can’t seem to get past the relentless pandering that is so much a part of young adult fiction. Unlike many authors writing specifically for the YA demographic, I prefer to give teenagers some credit. And even if they’re handed a book they aren’t quite ready for yet, I believe that the right book can grab a hold of a person and pull them forward into something better.
If I had just one opportunity to do that—one book to give to one kid that might help shape who they’re going to become—without a second’s thought, I would reach for The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
On the face of it, Perks is your prototypical coming-of-age story at the the end of the 20th century. Thematically, it doesn’t do anything different or come to the table with mind-shattering epiphanies, but it so expertly depicts the mind of a struggling 15-year-old that I can’t quite grasp how a grown man wrote this.
It comes down to honesty. Stephen Chbosky, through Charlie, does away with bravado and popularity and fantasies by giving us a surrogate little brother, a storehouse of dirty little secrets, and a witness to this incredibly complex and immense time in a person’s life. Perks is so authentic it kills me.
Refreshingly accessible and compulsively readable, The Perks of Being a Wallflower deals with difficult subject matter in a manner that is both understated and insightful. Chbosky is the epitome of class. He deftly meanders through discrimination and sexual identity with an incredibly interesting voice. Charlie is emotionally unhinged in a way that’s unusual yet freeing and admirable. All you want to do is see him through. He’s never weak, he’s never not a “man,” he’s a kid who’s lived a heartbreakingly unfair life, and somehow he has the wherewithal to sack up and attack life, even though it’s probably against his personality to do so.
This novel is written as a series of letters from Charlie to an unidentified recipient. It takes place throughout Charlie’s first year of high school, and it’s accurate enough that you can actually witness his writing skills progress as the semesters roll by. It’s this kind of subversive detail that makes me such a huge Chbosky fan. He doesn’t hit you over the head with anything; in fact, he’s probably a little too withholding at some points. But this is a book that rewards a reader for paying attention, for looking at the little things and really seeing them.
Near the end of the novel, Charlie’s teacher Bill gets him to read Albert Camus’ The Stranger, saying it’s “very easy to read, but very hard to read well.” The same can be said about the very best of young adult literature. YA novels don’t have to talk down to their audiences, they can be readable and entertaining and contain content worthy of your time. Bill was talking about The Stranger, but he might as well have been holding up a sign to the reader that said:
Don’t Just Read. Read Well.
This book is an anthem. This is mandatory reading in my opinion. There is no chance that my (future) children are going to grow up without reading this book. I need them to know that it’s okay to be willing to die for another person, but it’s not okay to live entirely for another person. I want them to understand what it means to love themselves, and that we only accept the love that we think we deserve. I want them to know what love really means. I want them to read the scene in which Bill tells Charlie that he’s special, because we need more Charlies in this world, kids who are unflappably earnest and good.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t just the best YA book I’ve ever read, but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, period. It’s a book I will read again, and again, and again and know that I’ll be getting something new each and every time.
All hail the King of YA. Sorry, Mr. Green.
Obama’s favorite book of 2015 is … (Michelle’s is also super cool). [People]
Margaret Atwood is writing a three-part graphic novel series about a man who is part cat and part bird. The first cover reveal is amazing and this sounds insane. She is so fucking cool. [The Guardian]
This article is from last year, but I just found it today. It’s a Slate column about how adults should be embarrassed to read Young Adult fiction. Some of it is inflammatory, but the second page does make some decent points. Good read. The piece has over 200 comments. I think that tells you everything you need to know.[Slate]
Bustle just released their 25 best YA books of 2015. [Bustle]
It’s December, and that means the Year End Roundup blogs have begun. But here’s a good one: Elle’s (“The Millions” inspired) A Year in Reading 2015. [Elle Thinks]
Speaking of wrap-ups, have you watched Laura’s Novellas in November wrap-up video? [Reading in Bed]
A good piece on Gendered Literature and the Feminization of Feelings. [Lit Hub]
Paste tells us about the 25 best Graphic Novels of 2015. [Paste Magazine]
A Book I Can’t Wait to Read
“Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now, Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that’s always defined you—and the struggle to redefine yourself.” — HarperTeen
A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend’s suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.
Here’s what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: “For Sam—listen and you’ll understand.”
As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.