The Perks of a Wallflower by Stepehn Chbosky
This short title has long been a favorite here at Berkeley High. (In fact, I just bought two new copies to replace some falling-apart ones!) The story’s narrator, Charlie, is a ninth grade student whose best friend committed suicide the previous spring. As he enters high school, he becomes a loner, the “wallflower” watching and describing what he sees without much emotion. The book is told in a series of letters Charlie writes to his “dear friend,” although the reader never learns who this is. He writes honestly and with a a keen sense of observation, describing high school life as he experiences it. A group of older students adopt Charlie as a friend, and through them he learns about life, both the good and the bad. His new best friend Patrick is gay, so Charlie discovers what it’s like to live in a homophobic community. He falls hard for Patrick’s beautiful sister, Sam, and learns about unrequited love. Charlie has his first date is with the self-involved Mary Elizabeth, but that relationship falls apart badly when he is honest at a party about who he would most like to kiss (Samantha, of course). Charlie also experiences casual drug and alcohol use, the ritual of the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie, and being mentored by his English teacher, who literally gives the teen his own favorite books to read and talk about later.
Even during my most recent reading, this book captured my interest from the first few pages. Charlie’s open and naive voice reminds me of myself as a high school freshman, and many of the kids I see these days, even though many of them have a practiced veneer of “coolness.” I think teenagers find it easy to identify with Charlie’s emotions and reactions to his new experiences, and this is one of the reasons this book has stayed so popular even though it is over ten years old. As of February 2011, the book is being made into a movie starring Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief) and Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame.
I recommend this title to all high school readers–it’s a short, fast read that everyone can identify with.