Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Audiobook)

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date: January 2006
ISBN-13: 9781419387241

Plot Summary: In a series of letters to an unknown recipient, a teenager named Charlie describes the events that take place in his first year of high school.  After the suicide of his best friend, Michael, Charlie starts high school without a group of friends.  After meeting Patrick in his shop class, Charlie starts hanging out with a group of seniors that include Patrick’s step-sister Sam, on whom Charlie develops a crush.  They draw him into their activities, including a weekly performance of The Rocky Horror Show.

Charlie tends to be introverted and thoughtful, and his letters tend to be his observations about his experiences – thus his status as a “wallflower.”  By the end of the story, his friends, most of whom are heading off to college, encourage him to become more actively involved in life.  Charlie also becomes aware of a repressed memory that profoundly affects him.  This controversial novel addresses topics such as drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, abortion and rape.

Critical Evaluation: Although it might not seem like a book about a high school freshman would appeal to an older teen audience, sixteen-year-old Charlie is confronted with mature situations and controversial issues that interest an older age group than the protagonist.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, published by MTV in 1999, has remained a popular coming-of-age novel for the past decade (and one of the most frequently challenged) – while specific examples of popular music might sound dated (especially considering that the setting is the early 1990s, so it was dated even at the time of publication), the issues it addresses are timeless and quintessentially adolescent.

The audiobook production that I listened to was narrated by Johnny Heller, an award-winning narrator, who didn’t sound convincingly teenaged but did a passable job.  I know that this title is very popular among teenagers (I work in a bookstore and it is requested all the time), but I wasn’t very impressed by it.  Charlie is reported to be some kind of genius, as evidenced by his relationship with English teacher, Bill, who assigns him additional books to read and review, including The Catcher in the Rye and On the Road, but his descriptions of events are so simplistic that he sounds more like a remedial student.  I wasn’t inspired, but then again, I don’t like The Catcher in the Rye, so maybe I’m not the intended audience.

Reader’s Annotation: During his first year of high school, Charlie, who tends to be a wallflower and observe life rather than participate, becomes friends with a group of seniors who broaden his perspective by introducing him to sex, drugs and rock and roll.  The influence of their friendship helps him cope with his realization of a repressed memory from his childhood.

Author Information: Stephen Chbosky grew up in Pennsylvania, and was influenced by the books of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was in high school.  After graduating in 1988, he met Stewart Stern, screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause, who became his mentor.  Chbosky went on to study screenwriting at the University of Southern California, and now lives in Los Angeles.  In addition to his popular book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is semi-autobiographical, Chbosky wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film Rent, based on the Broadway musical.

Of his inspiration for beginning the novel, Chbosky explained in an interview, “I was writing a very different type of book then, and in it, the narrator says, “I guess that’s just one of the perks of being a wallflower.” I wrote that line. And stopped. And I realized that somewhere in that title—the perks of being a wallflower – was the kid I was really trying to find. I stopped writing the book I was working on. And five years later, I wrote Perks.” (Source)

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Could be compared with other coming-of-age novels, such as The Catcher in the Rye.

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Are Patrick and his friends a positive or negative influence on Charlie?
2) Is it better to be a wallflower and observe life or to be more active?  Does it matter?
3) Compare Charlie’s relationships with his friends to his family relationships, particularly his siblings.
4) To what extent does the realization of his repressed memory affect Charlie?

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sex, drugs and alcohol, homosexuality, rape, abortion, incest

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and others available for viewing on Amazon.com.

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I was familiar with the title as a popular teen read, and was particularly interested because my high school aged coworker actually hated it.  I’m inclined to agree with her, but I can understand it’s appeal and would definitely include it in a collection for young adults.

Extras:

Stephen Chbosky at IMDB.com.

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April 14, 2010 - Posted by | Audiobooks |

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