- 5 stars hands down - and an angry little heart because of some reviews I've seen -
Charlie is a wallflower. Always on the sidelines, watching, wondering, waiting. Questioning himself over and over again. You meet him, and you immediately know - this one is not "normal". He is different, he is special, and he is sensitive. Very, very sensitive. And over the course of the book you learn why. You learn to see his life from his perspective, at least somewhat. And sometimes you might even understand him completely. But most of the time, he is just so different from you, He is just like you when you were fifteen, but boy, he is just SO different from you. But he's real. IN a way, even more real than the memories you have of your teenage-angst-days.
And I loved all of it. Every single page was just so damn good. Because the book is different. (Trying so hard not to say "DUH?!" now.)
What drives me up the wall is the criticism I found in some reviews, because it is just uneducated. Literally literally. Let me explain why.
First of all, this book is not a classic modern coming-of-age novel. And it is, in fact, not a 19th-century romance story. This is a post-modern book. Post-modernism is NOT an abstracrt concept or a science-fiction show. It is real. And it is a literary term. So please, dear reader, if you want to complain about the writing and structure and depth and God knows what, please look it up and educate yourself first! Drives me nuts, things like this.
So, you only get to see the world with Charlie's eyes. No other perspective, no narrator, nothing to take you outside of his head. Which possibly, and please correct me if I'm wrong here, might be exactly what the author wanted. This is a story told from Charlie's perspective and Charlie's perspective alone, as it was supposed to be. Don't know why people complain about that, but okay. I enjoyed it immensely.
But let's get back to my first point: From the start the reader realizes (or should realize) that Charlie is different somehow. Yes, he's quiet, attentive, shy, book-ish. But in a weird way. He's a specialboy in a way that you can't really grasp in the beginning. It's right there, but you can't really put you're finger on it. On the other hand, he's this lovely creature telling you something about his life in his own way. It's written like a journal, more like diary, not like an ongoing narrative. It's episodic, time might not be as "fixed", sometimes time is even confusing. Not just for the reader, but for the main character himself. Again, if you want to complain about that because you'Re not used to this kind of narrative style, or because you feel uncomfortable with it, or think it is therefore lacking style or structure or skill - Think again! Really hard. Because that right there? It's a narrative style. It's a skill and IMHO Stephen Chbosky does it very, very well. Post-modernism, people. Just saying.
Let's move on to the writing, shall we? I can't complain about spelling, grammer or vocabulary here. This is a fifteen-year old, in the 90s, writing more or less for himself. Ergo, he is not using long, complex phrases and sentences, modern slang or expressions we grew overly fond od in the 2000s. He thinks, he writes it down. And while he writes the facts down without going into detail every other second - because let's face it, he's writing this for himself in a way, he doesn't have to explain every detail to himself over and over again - he describes, explains and tells his stories in his own special way. His descriptions however are not lacking in the sense that you don't have a chance to understand what he is talking about. You understand perfectly well, what he is trying to tell you. And even when he only tells you that Sam looks sad, and then tells you he saw her with a douche who behaved despicably, you get the drift. You understand him. Or you could understand him, if you tried. It's called "reading between the lines". NOt sure when it became a hardship to do something that should happen automatically. At least it should in my book - pun intended.
Last but not least: Charlies "condition". I found quite some discussions about why Charlie is the way he is. First thing that came to my mind: Does there have to be a defintive reason? The ONE THING that made him strange, weird, different, special, whatever you wanna call it? Can you pinpoint the exact reason why you're afraid of something specific? Might not be an ideal example, but what I'm trying to say is: The mind is a beautiful, scary and, most of all mysterious place. So I'm not sure if it's really important, if it really is the center of this book to understand CHarlie's "medical condition". Whereas I do understand people's need to classify and categorize absolutely everything, and absolutley erverybody, so they can have neat shelves for people; don't have to be afraid of things unknown or incomprehensible. I'm a bit at a loss here. I can see why it might be interesting to discuss this topic regarding Charlie, I just don't see the point in complaining about not getting a good "diagnosis, only some overt hints". Because... Really? You need a medical disagnosis, more facts and details about the medical aspects of Charlie's mind and body? For what? I really don't get it.And I certainly don't see it as a flaw of the book that there is no medical diagnosis stated.
Which leads me to the real issue I have with some of the criticism I've seen concerning this book. Because in the end it really isn't important if Charlie is autistic, or has ADHD or some kind of disorder or mental challenge. And while I can somewhat see why people feel like there are too many issues adressed in this story in general, I don't understand how you could feel like there is no depth to it.
In fact, from where I stand, everything concerning sexual abuse and domestic violence is pictured in a unique, but very sensible and sensitive way. There is no need for detailed descriptions or explicit statements concerning past or present actions. Again, if you read between the lines you can fill in each and every blank, and then some. I'm not sure how you could show or tell a story about complex, deeply personal traumas as well as pschological and cognitive consequences than by looking at it from an equally deeply personal perspective. Which is why it sickens me to read statements about how superficial the characters are, how the writing style is lacking because you allegedly can't see beyond the simple statements of "being sad" or "happy". And don't even get me started on the crying issue. How can someone read this book and actually complain about Charlie's crying? How can you say that it's annoying, that Charlie is emotionally and socially retarded, too naive, too clueless and is an unbelievable character, because he's fiteen and doesn't know about masturbation? Especially because he was sexually assaulted, he should know all about sex and should be a sexual young man? I mean... What?! Really? What the heck? Again, Charlie as a sensitive boy, with so many issues he has a very hard tie dealing with; with a mind that doesn't work like every other mind out there, is annoying and unreal? I'm not sure how much education in psychology you actually need to call bullshit on this one, but I'll do it anyway. And if you don't understand the special way Chbosky is actually SHOWING consequences, effects and the whole aftermath in a complex, very holistic and encompassing way, please pick up a book about developmental psychology, a book about literary theory after that, and read The Perks again after you're done. I can't imagine you'd still say the same thing.
In the end it all comes down to one thing: It's perfectly alright to be uncomfortable with this story. It's also alright if you just don't like it for subjective reasons. But it's quite another to criticise, belittle or bash a book for no other reason than not being informed or educated enough to write a knowledgeable review about specific topics. It's not an easy read, this book. It certainly requires some reading between the lines, an open mind and the ability to get past a writing style (because YES, this IS a writing style, not mediocre fumbling of a weak author) that might be a little bit out of your comfort zone. If you can do that, I'd recommend this book a thousand times over, because it really is that good, no matter how old you are or if you ever were a wallflower at some point in your life.