Of all the high school books and all the coming-of-age books, this is the one that spoke loudest to me. It is the one that connected me with what I lived in high school; lived–not lived through. I was often that awkward, disconnected kid. I had to retreat at times and put on music and lock my door and escape from it all. Charlie! Charlie, you sweet boy. And Patrick, Sam, Brad, Mary Elizabeth–I’m with you all in my heart.
This is a book that well-meaning adults often seek to ban. It uses words they don’t like and discusses themes that will never have any bearing on their child. Yet, this is a book that would bring about such amazing learning in the hands of the right teacher. (Yes, I do know that most classrooms are not blessed to have the “right” teacher). Even a mediocre teacher, armed with a good heart and a study guide, could do a lot with this. But well-meaning people fear discussing mental illness, pre-marital sex, teenage angst, abortion and recreational drugs, let alone homosexuality and betrayal of a child’s trust.
That’s a shame, because this book isn’t about those–yes they are IN the book, but the book is about navigating the world, about finding solid ground to plant roots and grow in. It isn’t about hooking up, it is about self-discovery in the deepest sense. It’s about putting together the pieces of a very scattered puzzle and finding a the complete picture. It is about an awkward boy who knows he is awkward and isn’t ready to face why. When it finally happens, and he must face the truth, he does so commendably and with the loyal support of friends and family. Charlie loves his parents, loves his friends and is a loyal and steadfast friend to them. He takes great care to give thoughtful and loving gifts, but he realizes that he can and does”use thought to not participate in life.”
And when Charlie faces that un-face-able truth, he decides he will go forward participating–this is the part that really hit me. I was not as much a non-participator as Charlie, but so much of this story WAS ME. And, yet, I didn’t make the decision to participate until my late 30s. I don’t regret my life–I really don’t, but I admire that this was his decision–and that another kid could do so because he or she read this book and had it speak to them. Charlie is a true phoenix and that matters. That is something so many kids could draw on if they were allowed to read and discuss this book.
Plus, Charlie managed all of this without a cell phone or internet. That will be as huge to kids today who are accustomed to 24/7/365 access to friends, no matter what rules their parents think they set and enforce.
I’d love to tell how a few of the conversations in the story affected me, but they would be spoilers and I can’t spoil this for you.
I am amazed at what reading this book, reading Looking for Alaska, and reading a few other YA coming-of-age books has done to help me sort out my own awful adolescence. If you can relate to what I’ve written, then get the book and read it. I listened to it–it became very personal hearing Charlie’s voice as he read the letters. It forged a deep connection and with that connection came some long-over-due healing. Not magic bullet healing, more of a “that’s it…” “that’s how it was” kind of healing. Healing helps at 16 or at 54.
What a book. I don’t know if I can watch the movie or not yet. Some day.
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky