Monday, February 28, 2011
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Each year, at the start of a new semester, I give my students an information sheet. On it, they answer a plethora of questions from their birthday to their math homework habit to—uh-huh—their favorite book. Three years ago one of my students listed The Perks of Being a Wallflower as hers. The next year one of my juniors dubbed it as his. And each time it popped up on an info sheet, I was intrigued. I mean, really. What are the perks of being a wallflower?
Four weeks ago, another student listed it as her favorite book.
So I asked her if she had a copy.
She brought it to me one fine sunny Wednesday. (ahem - the perks of being a teacher)
I sat down to read it Thursday.
I finished it Friday.
I closed the book and sat in stunned silence.
And then I decided to wait two weeks to write this post to spare you from my DUFF reaction—ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an MTV publication which makes it a little hard to find in your average B & N. Meaning if you want to read it, you’ll have to visit Amazon or Half.com. Or be like me and borrow it from someone you know. It’s almost like it’s one of those underground publications—EVEN MORE INTRIGUING. And it was written by Stephen Chbosky—uh, he wrote the screenplay for Rent. Even better.
It’s an epistolic tale, told by the main character Charlie through a series of letters he writes to an unnamed “friend.” The letters chronicle his freshman year of high school—new friends, his first crush, his relationship with his family, and his experimentation with sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Gotcha hooked yet?
At fifteen, Charlie is incredibly thoughtful and observant—aka—a wallflower. He’s honest and sincere, just so genuinely frank about the people he sees and his thoughts about them. His family’s fairly put together. Mom doesn’t say much. Dad doesn’t show much emotion. Older brother plays football at Penn State. Older sister’s a senior at his new school. Their interactions remind me of my own family. Not perfect. But not reeking of dysfunction either. Yet Charlie suffers depression. Has for a while.
As Charlie enters high school, he’s dealing with the recent suicide of his best friend and a perpetual feeling of guilt regarding the death of his favorite aunt. This leaves him at times uncontrollably crying, other times violent, and yet other times experiencing periods of frightening stoicism—a boy many perceive as a depressed and emotional basket case—a freak. Within weeks he befriends seniors Patrick and Samantha (Sam), and they introduce him to their liberal and hard-core ways, a world in which he learns to do more than “sit on the sidelines.” He becomes what his English teacher encourages him to do—become a participant. Charlie makes friends, indulges a wild side, and falls in love. Yet at times, he still remains very much a wallflower.
Here’s just a little of Charlie’s wallflower observations and reflections…
It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.
I am very interested and fascinated how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.
And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.
Or my favorite
Maybe these days are my glory days and I’m not even realizing it because they don’t involve a ball.
Charlie observes people and feels very deeply for the experiences occurring around him. He reminds me of E.T. He almost takes on everyone else’s issues like they were his own. And through their experiences, Charlie wonders how things will end up. How that girl’s going to turn out after he watched her almost get raped by her boyfriend. He wonders if that four-year old who’s screaming at his mother about his French fries is going to end up abusing someone like his sister. And while appreciating and trying to understand those around him, he comes to appreciate who he is. And understand why he is the person he’s come to be.
I read the book with a wallflower experience that paralleled Charlie’s walk through his first year of high school. I laughed with his "highs," and cried when he hit the lows. Many times, I wanted to just reach through the pages of the book and give him a freaking hug. And just as Charlie learned a lot from his observations, I learned a lot from him too. Being a wallflower does have its perks. We can look at the people around us and appreciate them. We don’t know what their lives are like. We don’t know what pain they endure. And so we should not judge. But appreciate.
So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we came from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.
Live in the moment.
Observe. Feel. Particpate.
And in those moments, just like Charlie, we can be “infinite.”