A rite of passage. An inspiration.
In 2001, I was introduced to Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Not only did this book open my eyes to an unforgiving honesty of the world of high school, it opened my eyes to a majesty only seen in movies.
Recently, my girlfriend and I sat down to watch the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a film we had been anticipating since rumors of it’s inception. From page to screen, the film (written and directed by Perks author Stephen Chbosky) did not disappoint. It seemed as if Chbosky had been haunted by the world of Perks for 10+ years and could not bear to let anybody else interpret his vision to the masses any different that he had imagined when he first wrote the book.
After finishing the film, I realized that I had been transported back to 2001, a year when I had agreed to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower as a sophomore per a recommendation from a senior; a year when I had taken my copy of Perks and passed it around campus to spread it’s messages of friendship, love, music, and identity. The movie prompted me to share my unique experience with this book in hopes that other high-schoolers that feel lost may find solace within it’s pages; that upperclassmen feel the need to reach out an help those freshmen and sophomore find themselves and challenge the world we live in.
Pass the book
After I had completed my first read-through of Perks, I was awestruck but could not find nobody else to enter into dialog about the book. Unable to hold in excitement, I forced my copy of the book upon a friend of mine. To entice them, I informed them of the letter-form writing style and explained that the book moves fast… extremely fast. Within a matter of days, my friend returned the book to me and explained how great it was. I then decided that another of my friends needed to know the importance of the read and thusly, I lent my copy to another. By the end of the day, I had received the book back. My friend exclaimed that he could not put it down and, in fact, read it throughout each of his classes, finishing my the end of the school day. At this moment, I realized I was on to something.
I decided that this book needed to get around to as many people as possible, and instead of giving the book back to me, I would encourage the readers to pass the book to another. To make practice more intriguing, I decided to tear off a piece of ruled notebook paper to double as a bookmark and a log of the readers.
To my surprise, at the end of its months of circulation, the book had been read by 30+ students across a vast array of cliques. Not only were their names logged but they left markings throughout the book of passages they loved or songs they wanted to visit. My copy of Perks became a shared experience and the tradition continues today.
Since high school, I have given the book to my parents, girlfriend, and co-workers to enjoy. While the bookmark/name-log seems to have been lost, the markings throughout the book are still present. This sort of activity seems to be appropriate for this particular book as it coincides with Mr. Anderson’s queues of passing books to Charlie.
Read. Then Re-read.
As with many, my first read of Perks ended with a “well that was fun, but what does it mean?” And like most, I was told to go back and re-read the ending. Unbeknownst to me, the ending of the book was so subtly planted within the journey of a book lost in teenage politics, I had glazed over the seemingly obvious details behind Charlie’s behavior.
What is clearly presented to viewers of the film, readers will have to dig for. A portion of the ultimate experience of the novel hinges on the reader retracing their steps to find what they missed, effectively catching them by surprise and ultimately challenging their self-aggrandized sense of intellect and sharpness.
To add to the importance of the book’s seemingly hidden yet obvious answer is the openly obvious conclusion of the film. And while the film can easily be defined as this generation’s Breakfast Club, the anti-Kubrickian statement holds an added twist for those in need of feeling less alone in this twisted world.
A rite of passage
If there is any great takeaway from Chbosky’s masterpiece, it is that it should be used as a rite of passage. While the passing of Perks from father to son and mother to daughter sounds nice, its intention should be that from senior to freshmen, from Sam to Charlie.
Perks extenuates the wonder of young love, the impossibility of an underdog, and the ever growing desire for a sense of self. That said, the giving of the book provides the perfect gesture for anonymous admirers, gut-instincts, and strange attractions. The book symbolizes an opportunity for seniors that believe in higher meaning, deeper conversation, and maturity to open the eyes of a freshman to the open honesty of Perks and life in general.
Because high school has and always will be a place of change and identity, The Perks of Being a Wallflower may offer the comfort many need of guidance. Provisioning of the book should act as a new high school tradition, something as important as a letterman-jacket or class ring. Chbosky’s work should also serve as an inspiration for both students and creators, perpetuating the idea that anyone can do anything they put their mind to: write a book, write a screenplay, direct a film, or all three.