That Feeling of Being Infinite: Book Review of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

—Charlie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Two days ago, I finished reading Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” By the way, you may find this weird, but I haven’t watched the film version yet and probably I will not be able to watch it for a long time because it was last shown in SM Cinemas just this Tuesday. Hence, I am telling you this now, there won’t be any comments on how hot or perfect Emma Watson was as Sam. At any rate, it took me two days to read it.I really could not remember the last time I had read strictly for leisure purpose. As a law student, whenever I get the chance to have that vacation, which usually spans just for two weeks, I try avoiding all kinds of reading materials.  Because my family hardly goes into any vacation, being away from any reading material is the best type of rest for me.

Yesterday, when I was about to finish the review, I realized that I missed the main twist, the most significant part in the story. I tell you it was so subtly and intelligently written that even my intricate sister, who finished the book weeks ahead of me, missed it too. Maybe because I am a law student, my eyes are automatically skipping some parts and trying to search the main idea. I will read paragraphs quickly, and then when I realized that I didn’t get any grasp on what I have read, I will read the whole thing very slowly. Well, sometimes I do that. But there are times when I’d just shrug and tell myself to keep on reading because I might understand what is going on in the next sentences to come. Maybe that’s how I missed it. So now, I’m paying the price by rewriting everything I had written yesterday.

The book promises that it is a coming-of-age novel. The story revolves around fifteen-year-old, Charlie. He writes to “friend” his daily life as a high school freshman his struggles in school and his closely-knitted family. His story tackles on several issues and problems of high school students nowadays like drug addiction, smoking, sex, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality and everyone’s favorite problem—falling in love for the very first time. Who wouldn’t want stories about high school life and angst? Everyone says that the most memorable part of their lives is their high school life. This is where our we know more about ourselves, build our character, first voice out our thoughts, unleash our curiosity in many things, develop lasting friendship and feel that we are living slowly in the center of the world. This is the part of our lives wherein we could say,  “I swear we were infinite.

Charlie seems to be an ordinary high school boy. At first glance, you would find him a very smart, straight-A’s boy who is obviously beyond his years but he still possesses the innocence. He loves reading books, especially the novels his teacher, Bill, gives him as extra homework for his Advanced English class. He is also a big fan of music. All throughout the book, Charlie mentions several songs which I’m mostly unfamiliar with. The story was set in 1991 and I was three-year old then. Anyway, he is also good in mixing tapes and gives them to his friends and family. Charlie is endearing. He is a good son, a supportive brother and a loyal friend. Charlie could be very cool, too. Although he could be small in size and could easily be targeted by the bullies, he is a very good fighter. He is a wallflower, the quiet observer of life.

Nonetheless, one would wonder why Charlie seems to be friendless among his batch mates. All his friends are high school seniors. He is always going to his psychiatrist but he supplies no direct reason why in his letters to friend. You would see how submissive he is. He dated a girl who he hardly likes. He let his gay friend kiss him every night on the time of his depression. He can’t really say no to anyone. It’s also a wonder why he suddenly became addicted to cigarettes the moment he tried it and the next days to come; he smokes ten sticks a day. Later, he became addicted to LSD and marijuana, too. It’s as if he is trying to escape from something but he does not want to express what. Or perhaps, he cannot express it. He seems suppressing something in his memory. But what must it be? He has a good and close family who loves him so much. He is doing so well in school. He has caring and intelligent friends.

One must think deeper in reading Charlie. Stephen Chbosky’s writing style was too simplistic. I am sometimes annoyed with how literal it is written. There are times that you feel like the author is not giving you the chance to use your imagination or think. Charlie is blatant on writing to friend what he sees like his sister having sex with his boyfriend or how he masturbates. But I am telling you this: don’t let the writing style of Chbosky fool you. You must comprehend what Charlie is really undergoing by reading the novel very carefully. Recognize that Charlie is a character full of complexities. He is a broken character yet a very riveting one.

Perhaps, the novel shall be best remembered with the line, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I remember that for weeks, my friends in Facebook and Twitter posted that line as status message or tweet after watching the movie. I understand why those eight words are popular. Precisely, that is the answer why a lot of us suffer in broken relationships or are abused or are settled with very little love received. The love we accept are directly proportional with our self-esteem and how we measure our self-worth. But besides that, I shall not forget this lesson:

“But it’s like when my doctor told me the story of these two brothers whose dad was a bad alcoholic. One brother grew up to be a successful carpenter who never drank. The other brother ended up being a drinker as bad as his dad was. When they asked the first brother why he didn’t drink, he said that after he saw what it did to his father, he could never bring himself to even try it. When they asked the other brother, he guessed he learned how to drink on his father’s knee. So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we came from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”

Powerful lines. It simply states that all of us could be wounded people from circumstances on our past. But one could always choose a better path. And with our choices, it makes who we really are. A weak man shall always blame his past like how his job sucks now because he lived and raised in the slums or how he can never have a stable relationship because he thinks all women are the same because his mother left his father and him when he was little. However, a truly successful man who lived in a similar situation shall be the one who should be working extra hard because he does not want his sons to suffer poverty that he experienced when he was little and would value his relationships more. Charlie taught us that your past should be a story not an excuse. Charlie must live in each one of us.

I recommend this book to anyone. It is a book filled with life’s lessons that would let you reminisce on your teenage year. At the same time, you look back your past and think whether the wound inside your heart has healed and made you a better person or think if the effect is otherwise. You would love the overflowing hope it promises you after reading it.

Remember: You cannot change your past but you can always choose you future.

We accept the love we think we deserve. I think in the movie, it was Charlie who said it to Sam. In the book, it was Bill, his teacher, is the person who said it to him. In any case, those words will live on.

4 thoughts on “That Feeling of Being Infinite: Book Review of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

  1. Great review, Maris! I am presently reading this book and no, I haven’t seen the movie. Loved your insights! Especially the part where you mentioned how some people use their past as an excuse — exactly my sentiments! Keep writing! 😉

    1. Hey, Monique! I miss you! How are you doing in Australia? :). Thank you for reading my review. Keep on reading and remember read it very, very carefully especially the parts approaching the epilogue and the epilogue itself. I really love that book. It inspired me so much on living my life. 🙂

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