The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky Review 2/5

Overall Impression: Arrrrrggg! *yanks on hair* Everything about this book was so irritating, irritating, irritating! I have never found a book with so much potential, that falls so flat. The perks of being a wallflower

Eeeeshh. I was so disappointed with this book. I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that doesn’t like it! I’ve read so many good reviews, and pretty much everyone I know who has read it thought it was fantastic. But honestly? Meh. Maybe it’s because of all the hype around the book. After all, I even got out a sheet of paper in expectation that there would be loads of great quotes to mark. But it really did sound like a great book, the kind I usually enjoy.
But hey, on the plus side I absolutely love the front cover! That’s a positive right? :S I have a weird appreciation for purposeful scribbling and doodling.
This book was also read as part of the The Rory Gilmore Challenge.

Charlie is a freshman and while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through unchartered territory: The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sidelines forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The blurb pretty much sums it up. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming of age story centred around a young boy. The book begins with Charlie’s first day as a freshman as he tries to get over the death of his sort-of friend Michael. He shuffles through everyday life observing, but not really taking part, hence – wallflower. That is, until he meets Sam and Patrick two unusual third years with a thirst for life. They lead him into a world of drugs, sex, alcohol, but most importantly friendship. A coming of age story of emotional discovery.

If I’m honest, I‘m really struggling to find anything to write about this book. I keep opening this blog post only to shut it again confounded.

The writing style irritated the hell out of me, and I think this was one of many reasons I didn’t like this book. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel, aka it is made up of a set of letters written by our lead character, Charlie, to a mysterious unknown peer. Charlie for me, has the most frustrating narrative voice I have ever come across. He has the potential to be so great and unique but it just doesn’t work. The prose are painfully simple and jarring, they don’t flow well at all. There’s a disconnect somewhere along the way. He just grated on me throughout the entire novel, I hated his simplified way of viewing things. Chbosky makes all these comments that are supposed to be insightful, but with the exception of one they all felt so contrived to me. And not only contrived but unrealistic too, so none of them really hit me with that ‘wow’ feeling. When I’ve read quotes alienated from the book itself on the internet, they come across so much better. But when they are part of the text? They just made me cringe. The only one I came across that really resonated with me was:

‘We accept the love we think we deserve’.

This one did stick with me and will be added to my list of favourite quotes, in fact this is probably one of the only reasons the book isn’t getting 1/5.

Maybe it’s just my inner Psychologist at work, but here is an example of a passage that annoyed me:

”Do you always think that much Charlie?”
”Is that bad?”
”Not necessarily. It’s just that sometimes people use thought not to participate in life.”

This irritating generalization had me mentally screaming. NO. That is not why people think, analyze and observe others a lot instead of participating themselves. It is so much more complex than that, and how dare you attempt to simplify it. Ummpphh! It just frustrated me so much! And I kept hitting constant simplifications of the human condition that made me want to toss the book across the room. Literally. I rarely have a gut reaction this negative towards a book. I get that we are supposed to be seeing it through the eyes of someone younger, but being confronted with so many irritating assumptions like this that I completely disagreed with resulted in me getting really annoyed.
Yet another thing that grated on me with the writing was the constant need for name dropping famous authors. Why? Seriously? No bearing on the plot whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of intertextuality, when it’s done well it can make you feel all ‘ohh hey, I get that reference. Check me out being all intelligent and stuffz’. But in this case? No. It was blatant, showy and done with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Although I’ll give Chbosky this, it’s easy enough reading.

The plot? Also incredibly irritating. It felt as if Chbosky tried to squish into this novel every single coming of age situation a teenager could possibly go through; sex, alcohol, drugs, insecurity, sexuality and unrequited love to name a few. It got to the point where it just became utterly ridiculous and unrealistic. Again, it made me want to throw the book across the room. It was just too much. Maybe if Chbosky had focused on a few of these adolescent events and zoned in on them in more detail, the book could have been a lot more effective. But as it stands for me personally, it just didn’t work.

Unfortunately, the characters couldn’t save this book for me either. Once again I found them contrived, and they felt more like caricatures than real people. Charlie cries more than any normal person on the planet, even when taking into account what we find out at  the end of the book. We are constantly told he is ‘special’ without any proof that he actually is and he is so dysfunctional he comes across more autistic than socially awkward and psychologically damaged. I get the impression our lead female Sam is supposed to be vibrant, interesting and bold but to be honest I just found her a bit strange. She doesn’t act or react like a normal human being and although I’m sure the author would justify this through Sam’s past experiences, again I didn’t feel the two matched up. Patrick is a little more believable as a character, but I still didn’t really form any attachment to him. The only character I felt was believable was Mary Elizabeth, I would have much preferred a book on her! I suppose the letter format of the story could have hindered the character development, because we view Sam and Patrick the way Charlie perceives them to be, rather than how they actually are. But I still feel if this book was written in the normal format, I still wouldn’t have connected with them.

I honestly wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, because I didn’t enjoy it at all. So, instead I’m going to point you in the direction of several other reviewers who loved this book that I follow and truly respect the opinion of, because it seems that I am missing something about this book that others have really enjoyed, and I hate the idea of potentially putting people off a book that they might love! So:

“I think that perhaps what makes this book special is its slow progression. Yes some dramatic stuff happens but it’s not overdone. It’s perfectly written and the characters are perfectly flawed as well as perfectly developed. The end is not an end, it highlights that this is just a snippet of the boy’s life.” anyonething

“Charlie’s simple, matter-of-fact statements, his way of seeing the world, of sitting back and letting things happen, of moving through life in a kind of unclear daze while at the same time cutting through the ridiculousness of the world with extreme clarity – all of that really sticks with you” thoughtsonmybookshelf

“This is one of the very few truly truthful and honest books I’ve ever read, and that’s something I think very highly of in a novel. I don’t exactly know what makes a book honest, but it’s one of those things you know when you read it.” Novel Journeys

Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Did you enjoy it or were you left mystified like me? I would love to hear your thoughts on this one! 😀

Writing Style: 1/5
Originality: 2/5
Entertainment: 1/5
Character Development: 2/5
Would I recommend this book? No.

Overall 2/5

P.S. Also, although I didn’t like the novel, the film still looks amazing. and ten times better as they seem to have made quite a few changes!

Image Sources:
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4327066-the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower

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42 thoughts on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky Review 2/5

  1. THANK YOU. Though I should clarify that I haven’t actually read it- I just read some excerpts that were floating around as promotion, and they made me want to tear my hair out. I couldn’t see why this writing style, which was so bad it set my teeth on edge, was being held up as unusual and unique. I’m pretty sure my writing was better than that when I was a freshman in high school, and I was no child prodigy by any stretch of the imagination.
    This book was making the rounds when I was in high school, and I could never get past the blurb. It just sounded so boring. Give me The Thief Lord or Inkheart any time. Or better yet, Sherlock Holmes or LOTR.

    • Haha, that’s alright! 🙂 I was just being honest. It’s hard to write a negative book review but sometimes it just has to be done…
      Omg YES! Agreed, hallelujah I’m not alone in my thoughts!! That’s exactly how I felt, I know my writing was better than his at that age, as well as the way I viewed the world. I presume you won’t be getting close enough to read it in the future after reading the quotes?
      Ohh really? That’s interesting, to be honest I also thought the blurb was really boring too, it was only after reading so many good reviews and seeing the film trailer that I decided I really wanted to read it! It’s so irritating, I was really expecting to be blown away by this book but I found the complete opposite. Ohh and that ‘we are infinite’ quote really makes me want to hit something.

      • Honestly, there are so many better books to read- so yeah, I won’t be going near this one any time soon. If I want to read something bad, I’d rather read something ridiculous that’ll make me laugh.
        Ugh, the “infinite” quote bothers me so much. What the hell does that even mean? Sounding pretty doesn’t make it mean anything.

      • Haha I don’t blame you, as you can tell from my review, it’s not a book I personally would recommend. 😛
        Yeah, I mean I get what it means, but it’s just such a ridiculous overstatement that it annoys me. Like you said, I think he just liked it because it sounded pretty or unique.

    • If you think that’s an angry Becky you should have seen/heard me when I was actually reading it! Lol.
      Ohh really? It’s been everywhere Michael, how an earth did you manage to avoid it? Haha. Awwh, I love the cover, but each to their own. 🙂

      Ha ha, ha. 😀

  2. Wow this is the first negative review of Perks that I have read. I personally loved it but a friend of mine hated it for the same reasons as you. I enjoyed the writing style because it makes a nice change.
    I agree about the film though. It looks amazing! Sorry you didn’t like the book though.

    • Ahhh I know, I’ve only really seen positive ones too, it makes me feel like I’m missing out on something great… I really tried hard to like this book, but I just didn’t, I guess it just wasn’t for me. :/ I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it though!

      I hope you enjoy the film when you get to see it too. 😀

  3. WEHHHHHH. I don’t like it when I read bad reviews about things I love. The film is super cheesy and doesn’t do the book justice, fyi. So you’ll probably love it.
    *sigh* I can’t even put into words so I’m just going to pretend i never read this review. You’re a poo poo face 😛

    • Haha, I’m surprised you read the review at all after I pre-warned you I didn’t like it! Lol. Curiosity killed the cat eh? I don’t like reading bad reviews about things I love either, it makes me want to shake sense into people, so I don’t blame you. 😛 But I feel like there’s no point writing a review if it isn’t honest, so I can only be true to what I think.

      You never know, I may not like the film either!

  4. I am so gutted that you didn’t like it, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you you’re wrong, because where books are concerned you can’t be wrong. I genuinely thought you’d love the book, but I think I get where you’re coming from, Charlie crying did annoy me at times too.
    I know it was never said in the book but in my opinion Charlie did suffer from something other than the obvious maybe even a mild form of autism, but it’s one of those things that is left up to the reader to decide (possibly), I just thought it was a very interesting point you raised.
    Has it put you off the film? I hope the next book you read you find more enjoyable! 🙂

    • Me too. :/ I kind of feel like I am wrong, because so many people love this book! Lol.
      Aggh I know me too, I think this is the first time our views have actually differed on a book! There’s a first for everything I guess. 😛
      Yeah, I think it also didn’t help that I wasn’t in a very tolerant mindset when I was reading this book, with all the life changing uni stuff going on.
      Ahh yes, I was just taking a look round at the reviews on goodreads after writing this and I did notice that some people had some theories about him being autistic. I agree, it’s an interesting theory, and it would mean the plot made a whole lot more sense!

      Nahh it hasn’t put me off seeing the film, I still think it looks really good! So hopefully I will enjoy the film more than the book. Did you go and see it in the end? If so, what did you think? 🙂

      • The film was amazing! Seriously one of the best adaptations of a book I have seen. I don’t think film has exactly the same ‘voice’ as the book so you might enjoy it more.
        Haha i thought that yesterday, it’s our first book disagreement! Hopefully one of very few.

      • Ahh I’m glad it wasn’t a disappointment! 🙂 A friend of mine who loved the book didn’t like the film so I was a little worried.
        That makes sense, I thought that when I watched the trailer, the way Charlie is presented seems a lot more realistic and likable than he came across in the book, so like you said I am hoping I will enjoy the film a lot more!

        Ahh, great minds think alike. 😛 Agreed! After I finish the book I’m reading now, I’m going to pick up Dracula so hopefully I will like it as much as you did!
        Looking forward to your thoughts on Frankenstein.

  5. I haven’t read it. I have only read one or two other reviews about it and honestly, it isn’t one of those books I feel I need to run out to get. Maybe if it falls in my lap (then maybe I will love it and wonder what was wrong with me…) haha. Now your review, that was a fun read. 🙂

    • Yeah I noticed you marked it as ‘to read’ on goodreads actually when I was comparing how I rated the book with other goodreads friends. Haha well I definitely wouldn’t suggest running out to get it, as I’m sure you can tell by my review. 😛 But a lot of other people out there really seem to love it, so I wouldn’t dismiss it completely. But if it doesn’t sound like your type of book, I would go with your gut instinct. 🙂

      Haha awhh thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. 😀

  6. Interesting. I put this on the top of my to-read list after I watched the film last week. I really really loved the film. I completed identified myself with the characters, despite not being in the same situation as them. Perhaps it was excellent acting, but I just resonated with Charlie, with the idea that at some point in high school we all go through feeling a bit alienated, or confused, or shy as hell because we don’t know how to interact with others.

    Saying that, in the film I did notice there were a lot of author dropping and ‘indie’ bands mentioned. Don’t get me wrong, Catcher In The Rye is my favourite book, and The Smiths are the shit, but the fact that they both always come up with someone is ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ is infuriating!

    Ps. Is it snowing on your page? If so, cool!

    • Ahh, I just popped over to your blog to read your review! It sounds really good, and makes me want to go see it even more. You actually picked up on another thing in the book I didn’t like and I forgot to mention in my review – the stereotypical loner and English teacher relationship, so freakin’ cliched!
      Anyway….. yeah I think my problem was that I didn’t connect with Charlie at all in the book, which is weird, because in many ways I would consider myself a wallflower. However, looking at the film trailer I have to say it looks like Charlie comes across very different in the film than he does in the book! So I am hoping I will like the film a lot more.

      Ahh yes, the constant name dropping of authors and music did really grate on me.

      I hope you enjoy reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, hopefully you will like it a lot more than I did! 🙂

      P.S. Yes, yes it is. Pretty cool right? 😀 You can make it snow on your page too if you want, courtesy of wordpress: http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/oh-my-snow/

  7. Interesting. Do you think the problem you had relating to Charlie was because he was a teenage male, and the target audience is teenage males? (Do any of them still read…?)

    I’m not criticising your review at all – you have a right to hate a book everyone else loves – I’m interested in all the parts that didn’t click for you. The reviewers extracts you posted above, were they all female? Are there any teenage male reviews out there?

    Part of the reason I’m interested is because I *was* a teenage wallflower, although I never went to the extremes of Charlie. It was incredibly hard to smash out of the shell that I built around myself, even when I tried – even today, I’m uncomfortable in new social situations. That little word ‘shyness’ can define your life.

    It sounds like a character I would relate to; I certainly relate to that quote of thinking instead of taking part. Sometimes, yeah, it is that simple. 🙂

    Isn’t that love-we-get-love-we-deserve from someone else? Oscar Wilde, maybe. I’ve seen it somewhere before, or though it might have been Chbosky and I didn’t realise it.

    Anyway, I’m undecided if I should add it to my TBR and see where it goes, or not!

    Is it snowing in here or is my eyesight going?

    • Interesting indeed. :L It’s always strange when you get such a contrasting reaction to others about a book.

      That’s an interesting idea but I personally don’t think that fact that Charlie was male affected my enjoyment of the book at all. I have read several books with lead male protagonists and enjoyed them and related to them just fine. All the above reviewers were female and gave the book high ratings, and no I don’t think I have seen any male reviews of it, but then, I don’t often come across many male book reviewers full stop, which is quite sad when you think about it!

      ‘That little word ‘shyness’ can define your life.’ That’s a beautiful line, you should use it in one of your books! 🙂 I 100% agree, because I am very much the same and in many ways I would consider myself a wallflower. That’s what so strange, it should have been a character I really related to and could identify with on so many levels but it didn’t work at all for me and that was really frustrating.

      Haha I have no idea! The character Patrick says it in the book but I don’t know if Oscar Wilde said it as well.

      Hmm, that’s a difficult one because I didn’t like it, but I would say it’s probably worth giving it a go because I seem to be in the minority! Maybe you should check some of the other reviews I suggested. You’ll have to let what you decide. 🙂

      Haha yepp, it is snowing!

  8. I read the book after seeing the film. Loved the film, but could not care less about the characters when reading the book, in large part due to the author’s style.

    • Ah, I haven’t seen the film yet but judging from the trailer it looks a lot better than the book to me! I agree, that was my biggest problem too and I’m sure it was mostly down to the style too!

      Thanks for commenting and following. 😀

  9. I take it that you didn’t like the book then?! 🙂

    I did enjoy reading Perks, but I completely understand all of your points too. They are true, to some extent. I ended up liking it despite the bumps, choosing to ignore the obvious glitches and problems. I recognised everything that you’ve said, but in spite of it I still quite liked the book. Quite bizarre.

    • Ha ha errr, no, but I seem to be in the minority! 😛

      Ohh really? That’s interesting, at least I’m not totally off base then. I have often found that with other reviews as well, for instance Mockingjay in The Hunger Games trilogy, all the reasons people seem to state for hating it are actually all the reasons I love it, lol! And of course, logic doesn’t always follow the same path as the heart when it comes to books. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed Perks!

  10. You didn’t like it either? Hallelujah someone else! I’ve just finished reading this and I was so underwhelmed and actually quite annoyed… I’m struggling to write a review that doesn’t completely slate it off! I highly recommend watching the film – it’s so much better. 🙂

    • No I disliked it very much!!!! Thank goodness, I felt like I was left on a stranded island alone with my thoughts on this book. I was left feeling very annoyed as well and I think my friend was close to disowning me because she loved it, lol.

      I really struggled to write a review too – as you can probably tell, it isn’t as coherent as normal. I just did not understand the hype. All you can really do is be honest, it is only your opinion after all, good luck. 🙂

      P.S. Thanks for the tip!

  11. I’m reading this now and I am not liking it either! I was really excited to read it but pretty much from the first letter on it as just a huge disappointment. There are several things that make me very uncomfortable, one of which is the passage about ‘participating’ that you’ve also mentioned. It’s just not OK.

    It’s just not really believable. I mean.. the kid is supposed to be 15 at the start of the book right? But throughout the whole book he sounds 10 years old.

    I’m having kind of a hard time finishing it actually.. pff

    Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like it though!

    • Yay another person who isn’t enjoying it! (That may sound bad, but I just felt very alone in my opinion when I wrote this review, lol.) Ugh I know right? I felt exactly the same way, I was so excited when I bought it with its pretty cover and everything and then I started it and kept waiting for it to get better but it just didn’t. I’m glad you picked up on the same scene, it was just something about the way he said it that made me really angry, as if it’s just that simple that people use it as an excuse, it really isn’t.
      I agree it really bugged me too, I know there are several theories floating around as to why he acts the way he does but to me they don’t work to a big enough extent that it is believable.

      So did I! Good luck, lol. 🙂 And I’m looking forward to your review.

    • Slowly but surely I seem to be finding more people that dislike this book, it makes me feel happier knowing I am not alone with my dislikes. 🙂 I’m glad that it is liked by others though as a book is nothing without someone to read it!

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  13. Oh thank GOD I found someone who hated it too. I just found it an offence to literary work. That was some lazy writing. There wasn’t even a description for all the times he cried we were just told constantly that he did. Sigh, I don’t understand what people like about it honestly >.>”

    • Ahahaaa, Perks haters are hard to find but we are about! I felt so odd for not liking this at the time because everyone was going crazy over it. But I agree with you, the writing did feel lazy, I have read other books in a similar style to this and loved them so it is not that I didn’t appreciate what Chbosky was TRYING to do, I just didn’t like his way of doing it, at all.
      Sorry to hear you were disappointed by the book too!

  14. Pingback: Spread the Word: Beck @ Blogs-of-a-Bookaholic | The Day Dreamer and Candy EaterThe Day Dreamer and Candy Eater

  15. Interesting. I loved Wallflower! I thought the ending was a bit rushed but when I watched the movie I kind of changed my mind.
    I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie yet but if you don’t like Chbosky I don’t think you’ll like it. Pretty sure he directed it. Or he produced it. Either way, he was fairly involved.
    Honestly? I read this book during my writing degree and if I reread now, while studying psych, my opinion may change. Funny how your own context can affect how much you like a book 🙂

    • That’s okay, Bec, I was definitely in the minority with my opinion on Perks! I wish I could have loved it but it irritated the heck outta me.
      I did see the movie and I actually loved it! I found it so heartfelt and uplifting and raw. It’s bizarre that I could love one and hate the other but there ya go. 😛 I think the biggest hindrance of Perks for me was the writing style and obviously that was a non issue with the film.
      You’re studying psych right now? Awesome! You’re so right, it’s amazing how much on an impact context and life experience has on your opinion of books. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      • Nothing wrong with being in the minority! The book I’m reading at the moment is written a lot like Perks. I’m not sure where this trend came from: the simple writing with flowery undertones. I’ve read a couple of books like this now. I prefer the ones where the sentence ends in a way you didn’t expect, like a description that blows your mind, or something like that.

        Yeah, psych’s pretty cool! I have an oral presentation due Thursday, but it should be fine. I just hate orals.

        Context is so important! It’s something we learnt in my Arts degree. Got into huge arguments about it

      • Ohh is it Love Letters to the Dead? I’ve heard lots of people say it’s basically a rip off of Perks and that the writer was also good friends with Chbosky. (He might have been her mentor or something?) Either way I’ve been avoiding the book for that very reason, even though there’s been alotta buzz. I just know it won’t be for me. 🙂 (If it’s not LLTTD them ignore me :P)

        Yes I get what you mean by that, I do love those sentences that sneak up on you when you least expect it, those little gems that hide among the mundane.

        I’m glad you’re enjoying psych! I’m doing my degree on it and I find it so interesting, there’s something for everyone I swear. So many areas to discover. Good luck with the oral presentation, I despise those too.

        Ooooh, I would have liked to of been a fly on the wall when that discussion was going on!

  16. That you for your very honest review. It was very surprising. However, I must disagree with you whole-heartedly. As a adolescent teenage girl, I must admit, I found the format, writing style, and characters to be quite riveting. This books allows many to understand the mind set, the experiences, and the life of teenagers.

    One thing you mentioned was your distaste for the amount of character conflicts. Though, they may seem overwhelming, they are by far the most honest parts of this book. One could say you can’t focus with all of the conflicts. Unfortunately, this is what the life of a young adult is like, in too many cases. Stuck in the middle of childhood and adulthood, these problems you said were too much, are present in reality. These conflicts are not fiction. So, I ask, why not make these problems present? These character flaws and problems make the book refreshingly realistic.
    If I may elaborate based on personal experience, last year, a group I am involved in, decided to convince our school board to open a SBHC (School Based Health Center). One of the ways we expressed our need for the center was to give a visual. My sponsor, who is also a Teacher, asked all of her students to write down one problem they face on a daily basis. The results, a large list that would concern many parents. And the most mentioned problems? Sex, drugs, identity, and mental health issues.

    All problems present in the Perk of Being a Wallflower. So, I am very glad that these themes were ever-present in the read.
    Thank you

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