The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky
Young Adult Literature; Coming of Age; Epistolary Novel
Just Say YA
Most young adult literature shows off its coming-of-age chops, and Perks doesn't let us down in that department. Get your pens ready for our coming-of-age checklist, because this one has it all:
- Young kid trying to find himself
- Use of alcohol and drugs to cope with the stress of growing up
- Distant parents
- A non-parent adult mentor to look up to
- Did we mention drama?
- Issues of sexuality
- Depressive thoughts
Whew. That's a lot of angst packed into one book, and we've probably forgotten one or two dozen things.
We're being generous when we say Charlie's growth is, well, stunted. (And it's not entirely his fault.) While he might not completely come of age during the course of the novel (your thoughts?), he's certainly on his way. Click on over to our "Themes" section for more.
You might have noticed that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is composed entirely of letters. (If you didn't, you might want to reread… or get your head checked.) The fancy term for this is epistolary novel. Epistle just means letter, so epistolary means…lettery, or made up of letters. This isn't the first time this format has been used in young-adult fiction—Beverly Cleary's epistolary novel, Dear Mr. Henshaw, even won the Newbery Medal. How's that for epistolary awesomeness?
But here's the thing. In Cleary's novel, Mr. Henshaw wrote back to the young man composing the letters. Perks, on the other hand, is a one-sided correspondence. This is unrequited letter writing, folks. We can't really blame Charlie's pen pal though, because Charlie never gives a return address (and Google wasn't around in 1991).
Charlie says that letters are "better than a diary because there is communion and a diary can be found" (4.14.93). Normally this is true, but both his statements are false here. As his addressee never responds, there is no communion. And sorry, Charlie, but your letters were found, and the secrets are out.
So who is this anonymous recipient, the person who "doesn't try to sleep with people even though [they] could have" (4.14.93) and "sounded like such a good person" (4.14.93)? Or maybe the bigger question is, does it really matter?