Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
I wish I’d read Gone Girl before I watched the movie. Both were excellent, but while reading the book I kept anticipating the plot twists, which ruined the book for me. With The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I had a slightly different experience.
I know that people often say that “the book is always better than the movie”, but I think this is one of the cases where I would disagree. I watched the movie adaptation of this novel a few years ago, and I quite enjoyed it. The characters were likeable, with problems that any teenager could identify with. If I’d watched it while I was in high school, I probably would have loved it.
For some reason, when I read the book a few weeks ago, it fell flat. Was I too old for it? Maybe. I saw memorable scenes from the movie play out in my head as I read about them in the book. I saw the actors and the imagery. Stephen Chbosky, the author of the book, directed the movie, and I think that the casting was superb (except for Logan Lerman, who isn’t too believable as a “wallflower”). But for some reason, the characters as portrayed in the book aren’t quite as believable.
The best example of this is Sam. In the movie, she is portrayed by the delicately beautiful Emma Watson, the object of every discerning teenage boy’s desire these days. With her slightly unstable American accent, Emma Watson makes Sam more interesting than she is in the book. She is vulnerable but brave, and, like every other manic pixie dream girl, she encourages Charlie to actually live his life, instead of observing the others living theirs.
Much of the book is centered around Charlie’s obsession with Sam. Yet I couldn’t understand why. It’s repeatedly mentioned that she is beautiful. And that she is smart. And that she loves good music. And obviously she and Patrick introduce Charlie to a life of excitement, of friendship, that brings him out of his reclusive state. But other than that, I didn’t learn much about Sam. She had no other personality traits that I could discern. For me, she felt like any other insipid object of desire, and less interesting even than Mary Elizabeth.
I don’t want to discredit the book for its focus on weighty issues, especially abuse and neglect. Many of the characters suffer through abusive relationships, whether they are with family members or with a romantic partner. But the thing is, pretty much every character in Perks deals with abuse in some form. It’s so common in the book that I felt it was overdone and actually made the issue seem less serious. While I understand that the book was saying that this is a problem encountered by all sorts of people, I wish that there had been some variation in the characters’ troubles.
YES OR NO?: YES, but I’m personally ambivalent about this book. I feel like I may have appreciated it more at a younger age, although I believe books shouldn’t be bound to certain age groups. But for me, the book and its characters was lackluster compared to the movie.