Their looks might convince me that the something that’s wrong with me might be even worse than I thought.
The best time to read this novel is when you’re heart broken. Nothing can make you feel outside of your own reality better than heartbreak and this is the feeling one must carry while enjoying Charlie’s (the narrator and protagonist) narrative. It is the 90’s and the story unfolds in a series of chronological letters, the starting point being the death of Charlie’s schoolmate, Michael. From the get-go you’re given to understand that something is not right. There is this sense of an involuntary detachment in Charlie’s disposition. It is not quite like Holden’s from Catcher in the Rye as our protagonist is too empathetic and does want to ‘participate.’ At its barest bone, the novel is just a story of a kid who goes to high school, he makes and loses friends, tries some drugs, does some wrongs and some rights and achieves a sliver of self-actualization in the process. However that is simply not enough to make scores of people around the world tattoo snippets of Chobsky’s work into permanence on their skins.
Perks of Being a Wallflower is an experience. It’s a time of adolescence and confusion and getting a handle on your surroundings. All of which may be familiar but terrifying, regardless. Charlie is probably the cleanest paradigm to view the inevitably rough patch that we all experience at that age because he seems to be outside the boundaries of normal cultural and media based conditionings. Yet he leaves broad margins for others around him to indulge in them. That is the reason this novel can afford to be so hilarious and heart wrenching at the same time. So when you start to relate to the events as they are happening in the narrative, you let your guard down because Charlie is the last person who would (or indeed could) judge you and you are in turn his confidant. It was brilliantly contemporary to be addressed not as a reader but as a blatant companion, who is held in quite high esteem by the narrator.
Starting a new year in high school, Charlie gets into a fight that is memorable enough to make even the teachers treat him differently. Already a misfit, he now becomes exceedingly alienated till he meets Sam and Patrick, the beautiful girl next door and her homosexual brother, respectively. The siblings take Charlie under their wings and give him an almost universally unanimous experience of adolescence. Doing things your parents shouldn’t know about, being a part of heart breaks and drama, tension, sexual confusion and sometimes inadequacy, and of course, growing. However it is not just a selfish telling of a bunch of teenagers in the first world going about their usual shenanigans. There are grave issues being spoken about disturbingly matter-of-factly, some of which include unwanted pregnancies, subservience and domination in a warped version of love, incest, drug dependencies and the grotesque realities of change. We are shown our narrators evolution through music (The Smiths, Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Nick Drake) that has helped innumerable amounts of people through their darkest times and books (To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, On the Road, Naked Lunch etc.) that are actually a balm to the wounds inflicted on us by modernity.
The reason that yours truly, having previously wept and laughed during the course of this book is sitting in Pakistan writing a review about Perks of Being a Wallflower, is simply this; the feeling of love and loss is universal. It is in Charlie’s portrayal of monumental betrayals of denial and self-loathing, of love so heavy your heart breaks under its weight and of the feeling of belonging so great that being part of the stars is not just cheap, drug-induced lyricism. It is in his sincerity, towards you as his friend and reader and to the world around him. Even though Charlie is ‘a wallflower’, he is the bar with which to measure the anything-but-simple life.