The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age fiction novel, written by Stephen Chbosky. It follows the life of protagonist Charlie Kelmeckis, starting his freshman year. Charlie has to learn to navigate high school, after dealing with the suicide of his friend, crippling loneliness, trauma and adjusting to a new environment. Though, with the help of two seniors (Sam and Patrick) and their friends, family, and his English teacher Mr. Anderson, he learns to power through it. Charlie still does face many trials and tribulations throughout the book, dealing with his friends going through difficult times, dating, family, trauma and his mental health. Chbosky’s novel is eloquent but truthful about the teenage experience, which is a mix of both joyous moments but also some of the darkest. The Perks of Being a Wallflower teaches readers that no matter what trials you go through, you can pick yourself up and be the absolute best version of yourself.
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At the very beginning of the book, Charlie is lonely. He just lost his best friend Michael to suicide, and all his other friends from middle school abandoned him for “better” people. He’s completely and utterly alone at school, which is already a difficult situation to be in, not to mention everything else going on in his life. His brother is off at college, and his sister won’t talk to him at school. Though, in Charlie’s shop class, Patrick is a glimmer of hope. Patrick, or known as “nobody”, is a senior who ends up befriending Charlie. He introduces Charlie to his group of friends. Despite Charlie being a freshman, the group of seniors accepts him. His English teacher, Mr. Anderson, also takes a liking to him and gives him personal books to read and essays to write. With all these new people in his life who care about him, he doesn’t feel lonely anymore. Though Charlie does go through some stressful predicaments in his friend group, from falling in love with Sam (Patrick’s step-sister), dating, helping his friends with their problems, and so on. His friends end up helping him blossom into the very best version of himself and are extremely essential to his growth as a character. The Perks of Being a Wallflower exemplifies the importance of friendship, especially in your youth.
A wallflower is someone who blends in with the background of life - it is being a person who is never truly noticed. Charlie is a wallflower. He watches from afar, never putting himself “out there”, and focuses on fixing or helping others. He constantly worries about everyone but himself, although he is going through a lot. Charlie never seems to put his well-being first. This is shown especially when Charlie falls in love with Sam. For the majority of the book, he never tells her how he truly feels because she started going out with Craig. Sam even gets upset at Charlie at the end of the book, confronting him about the fact that he never made his feelings about her a priority. He continues to play the role of the wallflower and ends up dating Mary Elizabeth. Charlie doesn’t particularly like her that way, even getting annoyed at the things she does, but he’s too afraid to break things off. They do end the relationship eventually - just not on the best terms. That causes a riff with him and his friends for a while, which is a huge conflict in the story, but everyone ends up forgiving Charlie. Patrick’s situation is another important instance. After Patrick’s big fight with his kind-of boyfriend Brad, he takes Charlie to the park with him, hoping to take his mind off things. Patrick ends up having a breakdown and kisses Charlie. Charlie lets him and continues to let Patrick kiss him every time they go to the park. He knows Patrick is going through a tough time, and that Patrick doesn’t actually like him that way, so he just lets it happen. All Charlie wants to do is help. They eventually stop once Patrick gets his feelings in check, but it puts things into perspective for both of them. Thankfully, by the end of the book, Charlie learns that it’s okay to feel things. His friends and family teach him that it’s okay to put your well-being first. He can put himself first and also care about his friends. There are perks to being a wallflower, but it should not define your life.
Trauma and mental health is a huge part of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Life isn’t easy - it’s one of the major lessons the book teaches. Almost every character has something traumatic that’s shaped their life experience or has dealt with mental health problems. Sam was kissed against her will by her father’s boss at a young age, Patrick dealt with both homophobia from his peers and internalized homophobia, Charlie’s sister Candace had an abortion, and so on. Charlie’s PTSD and depression is something that’s eluded throughout the entire book but isn’t directly stated until his breakdown at the end of the story. Charlie has a total mental breakdown due to what happened with Sam, his friends graduating, and Aunt Helen. Aunt Helen is a name you hear constantly from Charlie. He talks about the good times he had with her, and how he wishes she was still alive to help him get through life. She ends up not being as perfect as the readers thought. Before the breakdown, at the end of the story, Charlie and Sam kiss. Charlie completely freezes up and freaks out when she touches his leg. They stop, and in the morning once Sam leaves for college, is when the breakdown begins. Charlie doesn’t remember half of what he said or did, but it was revealed by talking in his sleep, Aunt Helen molested him as a child. With PTSD, especially at a young age, your mind learns to block certain memories out. Memories of what happened hit Charlie all at once, and he ended up having to stay in a psych ward to get help for a good majority of the summer. Thankfully, his friends and family supported Charlie the entire time he was there. They visited him, helped him, and got him through it. This is the time when he learns to care for himself with their help. This teaches readers that even if you’re going through something, and it seems like the end of the world, the people who love you will be there for you. When you accept the love and help from others, you’re able to get through the darkest parts of life.