The Central Library has started maintaining several displays with titles like "What We're Reading" or "Staff Picks." I've often wondered how that works in corporate bookstores, whether the staff can truly put out whatever they want, or if they're required to pick from a list, or if they get any actual say at all. But I figure the public library is probably reasonably honest, and the last time I was there, I grabbed a small, chartreuse paperback titled The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. I'd heard of the book somewhere before. A quick Google search revealed where: on the Banned Books list.
I started and finished it last night. It's only about 200 pages. When I turned it over, I noticed that the publisher was MTV Books, and I thought, "Oh, fuck." I've read two MTV Books before and neither one was very good. This one redeemed the publishing house for me.
The book is a year in the life of a fifteen-year-old boy. Charlie is writing to someone who he doesn't know, and we never really learn where he got the address or heard of the person. He tells the person all about his life and his friends. The blurbs on the back of this book pissed me off, like they usually do. At least they didn't say the book was funny, but I thought that they trivialized it by calling Charlie's story "teen angst." Charlie deals with some real adult problems: his friend's suicide, his sister's abortion, his best friend getting beaten up by a guy who used to be his lover, and it makes him grow up a lot.
He's also trying to figure out who he is and where he fits in. Those parts are beautiful to watch. He makes friends, accidentally, with a couple of seniors who sort of "adopt" him. Patrick and Sam (Samantha) are into independent music and play in the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday night, and it's cool to see Charlie's whole world open up as he becomes closer to them. I liked Charlie because he didn't seem jaded. There was sort of a pure innocence about him. He does things like buy a copy of all of his favorite books for Patrick and Sam, with a note saying that he wanted them to have them because they were his favorite people. In his letters, he mentions crying a lot, and talks about how much he loves his friends and family.
Without his voice, it would have been a very heavy, overdone book. I mean, he hits pretty much all of the stereotypical teen "issues:" suicide, homosexuality, drugs, rape, abortion, and teen domestic violence, as well as the more day-to-day stuff like friend drama and dealing with an unrequieted love. And the book's only 200 pages long. I still think the ending went wrong. He should have just let the arc of the story come to its rest, rather than throwing in something new and shocking in the last ten pages.
But even so, I definitely recomend this one. Chbosky has managed to capture the feel of what it's like to be a teenager. It takes you back to the first time you ever sat in an all-night restaurant with your friends drinking coffee until 2AM, or just drove around with them listening to music on the car stereo. In a few years, Charlie will find all of that stuff boring. He'll have more options open to him and want more action than IHOP has to offer. Chbosky catches him at that moment when it's all new, and the book crackles with that energy, which carries it through what could have easily become a swamp of "issues".