52 books, 52 weeks, week 5: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

open book in a library
open book in a library

Week five of my 52 books in 52 weeks project had me reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chybosky, which I picked because it was sitting atop the YA New York Times bestseller list. (As an aside, did you know there was a Manga NYT bestseller list? New life ambition ...)

The novel is told from the perspective of Charlie, a freshman in high school who has decided to write to a girl he does not know because he overheard someone saying something nice about her. Charlie is afraid about starting high school the next day because he is prone to being picked on, but we also quickly learn that there's something else going on with Charlie. Something a little ... off. Although Charlie is a "wallflower," he is quickly adopted by Samantha and Patrick, stepsiblings and best friends, who also happen to be high school seniors.

At the center of this story are two mysteries: one that gets solved in part -- why Charlie sees a psychologist and has 'episodes', and another that does not -- who is Charlie writing to? Does she ever read his letters? Does she ever write back?

While I enjoyed this novel quite a bit and read it in one sitting, it is the things left unexplained that seem to stick with me. The mystery that's revealed doesn't really explain the naiveté and off-center viewpoint of Charlie's narration. And why can't we know who he's writing to? It seems like an odd conceit to set up without a payoff.

The novel also felt, sometimes, like an amalgamation of characteristics from several other novels: Flowers for Algernon, anything written by John Green, Go Ask Alice and others floating around in my subconscious, including one of the books I read for this project (Hopeless, which has a similar 'big reveal'). I also don't get why it's set in the 1990s -- again this seems like a device that has no payoff, as there's nothing particularly 90s about the book, other than a few musical references.

Still, don't let those things dissuade you; it's worth reading. And I'm curious to see the movie now. I wonder how they've translated Charlie to the screen.

Moving on -- this week's read is James Patterson's Private Berlin. I've never read any Patterson, so I'm curious what the Patterson book factory is like. Catch you next week!