Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

TITLE: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
AUTHOR: Stephan Chbosky
GENRE: Contemporary, drama
PREMISE: Charlie writes letters about his high school life after his friend commits suicide.
MY REVIEW: Here's the thing about Perks: I don't think it's the best book ever written. However I do think it's important and that it earns its place as a YA classic and that if you are a regular YA reader you should definitely read. I was in high school when this was published and remember it. I didn't read it at the time because I had sworn off contemporary YA then because at the time contemporary YA consisted of Judy Blume (who I had already read) and basically romantic boy meets girl and had cutesy formulaic plots that all were astonishingly alike. In other words it was what people tend to think YA is now even though YA has grown by leaps and bounds since then. So pretty much your only choice in YA were a few fantasy series (not nearly as large a section nor as varied as it is now) and romance (Meg Cabot had only just begun writing, PD didn't start getting big till the Disney movie which was after this). None of the books offered talked about serious things that teens face like teen suicide, LGBT issues, drugs, abuse, cheating, etc. for fear of ticking off the parent set. For good reason too because at that time the music censorship was in full swing. As I recall Tamora Pierce and Judy Blume got blasted for writing about sex and then beginning author Cabot herself even got criticized for being "inappropriate" (yes, really. They didn't like that Mia mentioned things like tampons or french kissing).
When you take all of that into consideration, Perks is most likely one of the first YA books to talk about these issues in a frank manner. I'm pretty sure Patrick is probably one of the first gay characters in a mainstream YA novel. Nowadays with books like Speak or John Green, Perks probably doesn't make todays teens bat an eyelash. Back then...this was kind of a big deal in the then quite small YA offerings. So I have to give the author all kinds of props for deciding to actually talk about the issues that most other YA writers simply did not talk about. Writing wise I do like what the novel has to say even if I feel parts of it are overdone. But if ever there was a book that basically showed what life was like for high-schoolers in the nineties, this book is it so even if I didn't connect with it strongly, I definitely got it and it brought back some fond (and not so fond) memories of the nineties. I suspect had I read this when it actually came out it would have resonated with me more.
So I'm sorry I don't think this book is the best ever written. However, I do think it's a decently written, sweet, remarkably honest contemparary novel (especially when one considers when it was written) that you should preferably read during your teen years and definitely read if you're a YA fan because I can say from experience that if you're a YA reader and haven't read this book, you'll get funny looks.
WHO SHOULD READ: Contemporary fans, drama fans, John Green fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five awesome english teachers named Bill

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