I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower over J-term (I think…) last year, and I put it down feeling rather confused. While I cannot remember much of the specifics that brought along these emotions, I can recall feeling stirred to seek more with an undermining sense of going into a box.

The characters were the type of people I wanted to be friends with and be–free. They were free in the sense that they were beyond the point of caring what the majority of people thought of them because they would be crippled with sorrow if they spent even a moment on those thoughts. You could see how what they went through bore down on them, but it took a large event to bring them to a breaking point. It made these “free” characters who basked in their imperfections honestly seem more real. You can only keep participating in shit for so long before there are repercussions in some shape or form.

This isn’t a commentary on my judging their actions, but think about it. There is a reason that people tell you not to do drugs or just throw your body around–you get hurt that way. Look at it this way: “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” This is not only true in science but is true in our daily lives. These actions can be good or bad things with good or bad reactions; however, we cannot predict them because human nature is unpredictable and our human nature often dictates the coarse our lives take (which I am not a big fan of, but that’s a talk for another day.)

The main character Charlie is one of those guys that every can identify themselves with in some shape or form. His character arc covers so many bases (sometimes quite literally) that deep down, everyone can seem a little bit of themselves in him. He goes into high school literally friendless because his best friend shot himself at the end of the previous year. He comes from a loving family, but there is hurt and pain rooted in memories he tried so very hard to block out. He witness over and over again forms of abuse and chooses to be the silent wallflower who observes and never comments. I think this leads him to his eventual breakdown because 1) he always put others’ wishes about his needs and 2) he never had an outlet for his pain. He met these great people who he called friends, but he rarely confided in them; he was always the listening ears or should to cry on. If anything, his path almost negates the title. Is there even one perk in being the wallflower? The only one that I can think of is that your true friends are also fairly good observers and can read you better than you think they can. Is it worth observing all that hell just to be observed in return?

This is clearly a coming-of-age story. I had so much hope for Charlie in the beginning of the story, but like basically every modern protagonist, he eventually tried drugs, drinking, and pushed physical boundaries. Why does every coming-of-age story have this?! I swear it’s required for publishing. “Wait! You need to include one for drug reference or one more scene with him feeling this chick up for I sign off on this.” Yes, I am aware that many people dabble in these things, and even more find prolonged comfort in them, but not everyone does. What about the people that look around at their friends who get into this stuff and say, “eh. Not for me.” It’s not like we’re robots who don’t go through shit too. It’s not like we’re perfect and want to look down at the world and judge it for all it’s worth. For some of us, coming of age is not a matter of finding freedom in the forbidden but finding freedom in ourselves.

I find stories of people that come from crap and get into trouble and live to tell the tale very inspirational and moving; however, I can only relate to a certain point. Does this sort of book exist, or am I just looking in the wrong places?

My other frustration is once you find a book that promotes a different lifestyle, they ruin it with cheesy crap that feels so fake you would rather infest your minds with stories of people’s first time doing drugs that some cheesy story describing a rather uneventful cathartic moment that led them to the light.


“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

My love life has been rather uneventful for the duration of my life. I don’t know if the loud feminist turned guys away, or if I just wasn’t desirable to anyone in high school. I don’t say this for pity, but it is something I have pondered many times. For as much as my loved ones say that I am this great person who has so much to offer the world and is destined to marry someone great, I feel like I don’t have much to show for it. Just a bucket of unfulfilled expectations.

I know that I have a way of screwing any potential thing up, though. I think too much which kind of screws stuff up. I freak out and basically sever any hopes of what could have been.  Is this because I don’t think I deserve anyone?

No, I don’t think so. I do deserve someone, and they are going to be amazing. If anything, I feel like I am more driven by fear of hurt, pain, and regret than my measure of self-worth. It’s that area in my life where I don’t take risks.

I am currently reading a book called When God Says Jump: Biblical Stories that Inspire You to Risk Big. It starts off with this poem-type thing calle “Risk” that reads like this:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out to others is to risk involvement
To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to do nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by his attitudes, he is a slave, he forfeited his freedom.
Only the person who risks can be free.
–Unknown Author

If that isn’t convicting, then I greatly envy you. I think the fourth line hits the nail on the head for me. I share my thoughts and feelings all the time but rarely the ones I need to share (unless I talk to you post-midnight. I pretty much can’t stop talking and half of my deepest secrets are out of my mouth before I even realize I’m talking out loud.) I’m scared that if someone saw into my mind for even a moment they would be repulsed by what goes through it. They would not be able to look at me the same way again.”To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self.” So I guess while I think I deserve someone, I’m scared that they will disagree; I’m scared that they think this broken human bring doesn’t deserve to share in an attempt at happiness with someone by their side.

Or maybe I’m just over-thinking things again. I tend to do that. I can just hear my mom saying, “Really Emily? Life doesn’t have to be that complicated. Why does everything have to be so deep with you?” I don’t know. Maybe I have to think so deeply and attempt at articulating everything because no one has done it for me. There’s no coming-of-age character like me to gather inspiration from.


2 thoughts on “Perks

  1. I think if you’re looking at contemporary literature for a “clean” coming-of-age character, you’re going to be disappointed. (And by “clean” I mean doesn’t feel the need to dabble in hallucinogens in order to grow up, but instead feels, thinks, etc.) I do think the whole “must experience sex, drugs and rock-and-roll to be a valid human being” is a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy (how many people have been astonished that I got married without seeing the world? Guess what, we’re seeing the world *together*). I just don’t think the kind of characters you’re looking for are what sells in today’s publishing companies; young people have started believing that they need to experience some great trauma or breakthrough in order to grow up.

    I do love Perks of Being a Wallflower, simply because I love being inside someone else’s head for a couple hours, and I think the writer is very convincing. I’m super excited for the movie, too.

    That being said, possibly my favorite book of all time is a coming of age story in which the main character is totally relatable, and I think much closer to what you’re searching for: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. It’s pretty much amazing, and you should try it.

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