Strengths: He gets up to a lot more than I ever did!
Weaknesses: The big reveal is over and done with rather quickly.
Why I read it: The manager at my local bookshop talks about this book a lot – it’s one of their biggest sellers over the last few months.
Published: 2012 (originally 1999)
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
I didn’t realise this book was being released as a movie until I saw the new edition with the cover with Emma Watson and friends. My local bookshop manager loves this book and suggested to our book club we read it, but it got passed over for military history (!) So based on that they’ve sold over a hundred copies of this book in the last few months, I decided to buy it. It’s basically a very dramatic first year of high school for the protagonist, Charlie written through a series of letters to an unknown friend.
To be honest, I’m not sure who this book is intended for and why it’s being bought so rapidly. I can only come up with two hypotheses:
- There are quite a few local high schools nearby. The book has that kind of teenage angsty thing going on. Everyone has read Twilight.
- There is a movie coming out. There is a cinema near the bookshop.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I didn’t like this book. One of the main reasons is that Chbosky does that teenage, high school awkwardness so darn well that it made me relive exactly how much high school sucked. He gets that whole ‘is it me, am I a weirdo?’ thing and translates it brilliantly on to the page. I was literally squirming in my seat when Charlie is told to stay away from his friends for a while and is left alone. The other reason is that Charlie didn’t grab me as a character. I understand that he’s been through some horrible stuff and carries scars but a couple of things just didn’t ring true. One is that he cries A LOT. That’s unusual. What’s also strange is the reaction of others. They don’t seem to worry about it and treat it as normal. At my high school, you would have suffered badly for just crying once. Others, you probably would have been bashed. But then, I didn’t go to high school in the early 1990s, so perhaps things would have been different. (Addendum: I asked a long-serving high school teacher about this and the answer is no – Charlie would be been a constant target for ‘bashing’ in any time period).
Charlie is also an extraordinarily ‘deep’ character for his age. The tag line of the movie, ‘we are all infinite’, comes from something he says during a party. (For a wallflower, he goes to a lot of parties and does a lot of illegal drugs. There’s more going on for him in one year of school than I had through high school, undergrad and postgrad uni!). He’s a thinker (shown by his relationship with his English teacher and the novels Bill gives him to read) but doesn’t always get it right. It’s odd that he didn’t tell someone about the past events that lead to the big event at the end of the novel (not going to spoil it for you) – he would know it’s wrong and okay to tell someone!
Maybe when I was younger (i.e. in high school) I would have found this book deep and really cool. But looking back from an adult perspective, I found some of the dramas petty and others unrealistic for that age group. Will I see the movie? Probably not, but I’d be interested to see if they keep the early 1990’s feel – pre-internet, pre-mobile phone.