Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reading Free-For-All: The Perks of Being A Wallflower

I think I was in high school, maybe middle school but that doesn't seem right, when my friends all read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I was pretty into high fantasy for the most part and sort of dismissed it. It didn't seem much like my thing and aside from the occasional friend telling me how much they liked it, no one really suggested that I would like it very much so I never really bothered it pick it up.

It wasn't until the last year or so that I started hearing about it again. Sure, it came up every once in a while but that was about it. I'm not sure if it was the movie that brought it to people's attention or that I started being around people who'd read it again, but either way Perks re-entered my life. I remember how much some of my friends loved it. Particularly, my friend Laura, who I share a lot of book love with. It just sort of popped up all over the place. Then the trailer for the movie came out. And, oddly enough, what stuck in my mind most was the use of the song "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons. This was a song that played at work with semi-frequency and it was a song that I had mentally noted as liking it. I'm unusually swayed by the use of songs that I like. Regardless, the book was brought back to my attention.

Then it was mentioned on Twitter by John Corey Whaley (who I infamously twitter-stalk) and someone from Barnes and Noble job said it was one of her all time favorite books (It was actually on the staff recommends shelf right beside my pick of "Where Things Come Back"). She ended up gifting me a copy. So I thought it was about high time that I read it.

I have mixed feelings about it.

On one hand the book is artfully written in such a way that Charlie's writing style and comprehension grows as the book continues. It varies from being mentioned to being a little more subtle. And at first I picked right up on it and then, when I finished the book, I realized how much Charlie had changed. It's done so well that you can pick up on Charlie's changes without Charlie being any less Charlie. He stays true to himself but sort of changes to fit his surroundings, in true wallflower form.

I related to a lot of the realizations that Charlie comes to in the book. I'm not the most social creature, and it's not necessarily by choice all of the time. I just don't always know how to react the people. It comes from being a little more practical. Practicality is not usually your friend in social situations. My issue was that, while Charlie and I might come to the same realizations or have the same mental reactions to things, I didn't always understand why he did the things he did. I also don't think I was quite as innocent as Charlie at that age, no matter how naive I might have been.

I'm not saying this is bad, it's just jarring to connect to a character all the way through understanding and then suddenly be knocked out of it by the conclusion of the realization being executed so differently. It definitely kept me on my toes and kept me interested. I was never really sure how Charlie was going to react to something or handle things.

One of the odd connections I made while reading this is how much Charlie reminded me of Jane from Jane Eyre. There's this sort of practicality about both of them. It occurred to me first when Charlie's father told him that not every had a sob story and then everyone Charlie met did but he never really saw it that way. Instead of immediately realizing that these terrible things happened to these people and making it the defining feature he just added it to their life stories. It was just something that happened and, sure, it was terrible but it wasn't the only thing he remembered. I thought of Rochester asking Jane what her terrible story was and her saying that she didn't have one. They both see these things as just things that they went through. It was a sort of startling comparison for me but also an exciting one. They're not that different as characters but they have such different lives.

The hardest thing for me while reading was the language. It was so abrupt at first and that made it difficult for me, at first. It was odd to see thoughts similar to my own put into language that shook me so much. It was a little easier when I reminded myself that his thoughts and understanding (or lack there of) was supposed to be unsettling so it matched, but to remind myself of that I had to be knocked from the story. It got easier as I went and I was more interested in the story.

But that was another thing. I'm not saying that every teen's story has to be the same, they most certainly are not. I read the book with an unattached interest. I wasn't all that invested in the characters. I wasn't surprised when Charlie ended up in the hospital. I was curious to know an official diagnosis but wasn't all the upset that I didn't get one. I sort of half expected someone to die. I was never all that upset reading the book, but was rather left feeling like I should have been instead. It was a sort of half disinterest. I understood but couldn't bring myself to care all that much. I just couldn't see why most of the characters reacted the way that they did.

I actually found Patrick's actions the most understandable. He's sentimental and lively. I think some of the most lively characters have the most passionate reactions. Especially after the Brad thing, I loved how he was handled. He was hurt and trying so hard to be strong. It ends with violent reactions (I don't mean physical violence)

I do realize that my thought about this book are sort of jumbled but that's how it made me feel. Confused and disoriented. I couldn't really pin down what threw me off so much. It appealed to the large part of me that is a wallflower but then, at the same time, pushed me back. It's the use of that connection that all teenagers have but specifying it so much that I don't know what to think of it. And I'm not a teenager anymore. It just left me confused.

I will say this, there's an interview where John Corey Whaley talks about why he wrote YA and mentions that mutual teenage experience and I can see where this book might have influenced that. This book has become intertwined with Where Things Come Back  in an odd sort of way.

I don't think I can make much more sense of how I reacted to this book.

So, I give The Perks of Being A Wallflower a (potentially controversial) rating of Epic.

I think I'm finally going to read my ARC of Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys. I've had it for a while and I was sort of waiting for things to settle a little so I thought I could really enjoy it. But I think it's time. So expect a gushing post next time.

Until then,


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