I think most of us feel like a wallflower at some point in our lives.
Certainly, I often feel like a wallflower to some degree. Being social outside of my established friends does not come to me naturally and involves a lot of anxiety.
This brings me to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
I had first heard of the book a couple of years ago because I was reading about the song “Vapour Trail” by Ride.
It’s a fantastic tune and one of the highlights of Britain’s “shoegaze” era. As a teenager, the sound of “Vapour Trail” defined love for me. The layers of guitars and keyboards soar to the heavens, and of course the girl you love is “A vapour trail in the deep blue sky …”
In my Wikipedia reading, it was mentioned that the song appears on a mixtape made by the lead character in the book, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Upon seeing that, I figured the book had to be pretty cool. It had received a lot of praise in general, and I made a mental note of all this but didn’t seek out the book.
Last year, with the release of a film version of “Perks” approaching, I decided it was time to read the novel.
I wasn’t prepared for just how amazing the book is. Had “Perks” been around when I was in high school (it was published in 1999), I’ve little doubt it would have been among my favorite novels.
I totally fell in love with the main character, whose real name is never revealed but refers to himself as “Charlie.” He is the titular “wallflower” — an amazing and generous teenager who has a hard time connecting with people and has some mental issues.
I’ve heard some complain that the book deals with so many things — drugs, suicide, homosexuality, domestic violence and more — that it seems like an after school special. But I felt all of those topics are dealt with very naturally, and they absolutely do rear their heads in some manner during most of our lives.
Because of its honesty about these subjects, some people have sought to ban the book from libraries.
What has endeared the novel to so many, however, is the characters. Charlie and his friends are the circle of support we wish we all had. Some of us are lucky enough to get that and, unfortunately, some of us are not.
One of the most important messages of the book is that we accept the love we think we deserve. It’s so very true, and it’s something I’ve seen time and again throughout my life.
I’m not ashamed to say that, by the end of the book, I was choking back tears like a hormone-laden teenager. It is such a beautiful, tragic and ultimately uplifting story that I still get emotional thinking about it months later.
I read the book just in time to see the movie in the theater last fall. It’s the first time in a long time where I had a piece of literature fresh in my mind and was eager to see how it would play out on screen. These people meant so much to me that I wanted to see their stories told right.
My fears were somewhat eased by the fact that the author of the book, Stephen Chbosky, also directed the film. Certainly, he cared just as much, if not more, for these characters than I did.
I ended up seeing the film in the theater twice. Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson and the rest of the cast are fantastic. And, just like the book, I was reduced to tears by the end. Both times.
For those unfamiliar with the book or movie, now is a good time to catch up with either or both. (I highly recommend the novel, as it is able to flesh things out in a way the film cannot.)
“Perks” was released on DVD this week, and I had to add it to my collection. It has a lot of deleted scenes that are a must-see for any fan.
But I think the most important extra is the solo commentary Chbosky does for the film.
Rarely do I listen to an entire DVD commentary, but Chbosky is such a kind, gracious and understanding soul that I couldn’t stop listening. It’s one of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard, if not the best. Sure, he talks about how much he loves the actors and addresses differences between the novel and the film, but he also talks about the issues with which his characters have to live. At several points, he assures viewers that if they are living with secrets and things that are weighing on them, they can get through it. Life is not about where you’ve been, it’s about where you’re going from here.
By now, you’re going to think I’m an absurdly emotional fellow, but I’ll tell you that once again, Stephen Chbosky had me in tears because of the beauty of his message. He is so earnest about his empathy for other humans.
Chbosky has made a connection with people, especially teens. He has heard from individuals who said they were thinking about suicide but changed their minds after reading his book. Now, I’m certain the same thing will happen because of his movie.
Art is that powerful. It can remind us that, no matter how alone we feel, there are other people who have gone through or are going through the same thing. That fact alone can give us enough hope to face another day and work toward a life we are happy to be living.