In high school, besides conversations with my very best friend (whom I talked to about everything I read, heard, did, and ate, so it doesn’t really count), I never really talked with my peers about books. We’d say whether we liked the novels we read for class or not, and then go over the SparkNotes characters page in the hallway before class Monday morning, but that was about it.
This changed when I bought my used copy of the Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, at a used bookstore in Ashland, Oregon, where I went to get away from the less interesting, more close-minded Southern Oregon town where I actually lived. I started reading the book in the park and couldn’t stop. I read it twice, and preceded to lend it to everyone I knew until it became old and frayed (just like that picture up there!). I lent it to my sister, and it became the gift she gave to everyone she cared about, saying “You HAVE to read it.”
The Perks was published by MTV press in 1999, and doesn’t try to be too literary. It is about being young and confused, dealing with social pressures, drugs, sexuality, and finding your place in the world. Sounds stereotypical and angsty, and it might be (just a little), but the way that Chbosky writes just works.
At a time when my emotions were at a dazzling but vulnerable high, I read this book and clicked with the narrator Charlie’s feelings so well it sometimes made me cry. While some of the themes are heavy (it is a banned book in many states because of the issues it covers and the rawness of detail), it also relays the pure happiness you can feel from making the perfect mixtape, or meeting the person who you know will become your best friend. In my favorite scene, Charlie rides in the bed of a truck, the wind in his face, his best friends in the cab, feeling “INFINITE.”
One warning: This book is kind of like your own diary—it is beautifully raw and truthful, but when you read it again five years later you may cringe. Read it now, when you are Charlie’s age, feeling what he feels.
A couple of quotes from the book:
“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.”
“I am very interested and fascinated by how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.”
Another reason you should read this book in your last month or so of summer: I’ve seen a rather large stack of much-loved used copies at Powells.
-Kelly, WITS intern
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