Published in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky, developed a cult following. Now, this “cult following” has nothing to do with vampires, zombies, wizards, or any other supernatural being that has been the trend for young adults in the past decade. This unique cult is about normal human beings, flaws and all, and a person’s journey through adolescence and into adulthood. Chobsky, who wrote the book in his early twenties, became very attached to his work, as it was partly based off of his own experiences as a teenager and him trying to find out who he was as a person. There are many topics, both controversial, and noncontroversial talked about in the book, causing a stir in high schools and colleges around the United States. Perks is on the list for the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009, and placed in number ten (Top 100 Banned). Regardless of the constant opposition, the book created a fan base that believed in its ideals and situations.
Teenagers make up the fan base and audience for Perks, who are simultaneously experiencing what Charlie, the protagonist of the story, is experiencing as he enters high school. Charlie is a boy who’s friend’s suicide has traumatized him, and keeps to himself. He then befriends Sam and Patrick, half-siblings, who show him how him being a wallflower makes him special. The book follows him through his freshman year as he experiences many firsts–drugs, kiss, girlfriend, sex–while also dealing with the constant complexities of his mind as he is slowly suffering from the death of his friend and his Aunt Helen, who had been the most prominent figure in his life. This is what makes the story so great for its audience–it is relatable specifically and only for them. There are drugs, alcohol, love, heartache, dating violence, growing up, a journey of finding yourself–most controversial, but are relatable for many teens. I just read the book last fall, and the deciding factor for me buying the book was that Emma Watson was in the movie version of it. I did not know about the cult following. I did not know how intense of a book it was. As I read it, I asked my friends if they had read the book before. All of them responded by saying it was one of their favorite books. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has become one of my favorite books.
Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie in the early 1990s, who is writing letters to a ‘friend.’ One of the strongest and most heartfelt quotes is the first sentence of the book, which reads: “I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have” (Chobsky 2). Charlie is an innocent, traumatically affected teenage boy, trying to find himself in the world. He befriends Patrick and Sam, half-siblings, who help him ease out of his shell and live life to the fullest. Patrick is an eccentric, witty guy who is secretly dating the quarterback of the football team. Sam has a rebellious spirit, but is also smart and wants to be sincerely loved. Charlie soon finds himself becoming attracted to Sam, despite the three-year age difference. These characters, among many others, are extremely relatable, and at least one of them reminds a reader of one of their own friends. Another quote that resonates well with the storyline is first said by Charlie’s English teacher, Bill, and then said by Charlie to Sam. Bill states, “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve” (Chobsky 24).
Released in theaters less than two weeks ago, the film adaptation of Perks of Being a Wallflower made a splash. It has made a little over six million dollars in the time it has been in theaters. This is an amazing feat, for it was a low-budget film that was introduced at the Toronto Film Festival. The film stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam, and Ezra Miller as Patrick. The cast also features Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, and Nina Dobrev, who all play key roles in the plot line. The high profiles of the actors, especially Emma Watson, in her first major post-Harry Potter role, reached out to their fan bases, and those fans went to go see the movie, even if they had not read the book; they will want to after seeing the movie.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written, produced, and directed by the author, Stephen Chbosky. Betsy Sharkey, a movie critic from the L.A. Times, says in her review, “Chbosky trusts his audience to understand the subtext of moments without throwing in unnecessary explanations. That requires a more nuanced level of acting and the core cast is very adept at pulling it off” (Sharkey). Another critic, from the Huffington Post states,
The film really captures the excitement of being a confused, scared newcomer falling in with an older crew of infinitely cool, seemingly self-possessed role models, where Charlie starts as sort of a surrogate little brother, a witness, and a repository for secrets before becoming a full-fledged member as his identity takes shape. The film also captures the pain and longing of having a crush on a cool and pretty girl who inexplicably dates losers and assholes, which, as many guys know, is a tragedy as old as the hills
Both critics praise the movie, but in both reviews, notice the differences between the book and the movie as non-important because of the intensity of the core plot. Things such as a teen pregnancy and abortion did not make it into the movie, but does not take away from the essence of the book. There were some critics who criticized Emma Watson’s American accent (her first time using one in a film), and many exclaimed that Ezra Miller was the most vibrant of all the actors. The movie was beautiful cinematically, which made the entire movie even better.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a “moving tale of love, loss, fear and hope—and the unforgettable friends that help us through life” (THE PERKS). It is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. Stephen Chbosky’s book is a real story about real situations, with no Hollywood agenda or ending. I highly recommend reading the book first before seeing the movie, for Charlie’s words will mean even more to you if they are read, and then seen brought to life. The book does not have a single review online, good or bad, while there are many of reviews for the movie. Reviews from online websites NPR and TIME believe that the movie is just a nostalgic portrayal of the nineties, and go as far as Richard Corliss from TIME describes the movie as being “frightfully familiar — as if teens sitting around the campfire need to be told the same story every night” (Corliss). Corliss’ review could not be any further from the reality of what the movie is like. The movie, or the book, is not about nostalgia–Stephen Chbosky is not lamenting about how he misses the nineties, or even telling a campfire-like story. His story could have taken place in any decade, obviously having different pop culture references, but the story is about dealing with life’s traumas and specifically how a teenager can learn to be comfortable in his or her own body.
Even with the bad reviews, the cult following is continuing to grow, as teenagers are discovering the book again with the release of the movie. It may not be considered a classic like The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird, but it still resonates with a vast amount of people. The story is timeless, and the situations in it are infinite, something that Charlie learns to understand in himself, his friends, and his family. Charlie’s journey to find himself is relatable for anyone in any decade. Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the perfect use of time, and once read, it will be on your bookcase, and proclaimed as one of your favorite books. This kind of book may not be your style; it was not mine. Nevertheless, it became one of my favorite books, and it will definitely become yours.
“Box Office Mojo – Movie Index, A-Z.” Box Office Mojo – Movie Index, A-Z. IMDb, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=main>.
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV, 1999. Print.
Corliss, Richard. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower: A Teen Angel’s Dreamy Angst.” TIME.com. Time.inc, 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2012. <http://entertainment.time.com/2012/09/13/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-a-teen-angels-dreamy-angst/>.
Kim, Jonathan. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower– Adapted With Love.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-kim/rethink-review-the-perks-_b_1917699.html>.
“THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – Story.” THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – Story – Official Movie Website. Summit Entertainment, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://perks-of-being-a-wallflower.com/story.html>.
Sharkey, Betsy. “Movie Review: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ Is a Smart Standout.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-movie-review-20120921,0,2041799.story>.
“Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.” American Library Association. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009>.