For the film of the same name, see The Perks of Being a Wallflower (film).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age epistolary novel by American writer Stephen Chbosky which was first published on February 1, 1999 by Pocket Books. Its narrator is an introverted teenager known as Charlie, who describes his experiences in a series of letters to an anonymous stranger. Set in the early 1990s, the novel follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school in a Pittsburgh suburb. Intelligent beyond his years, he is an unconventional thinker; as the story begins, the reader learns that Charlie is also shy and unpopular.
Chbosky took five years to develop and publish The Perks of Being a Wallflower, creating the characters and other aspects of the story from his own memories. The novel addresses themes permeating adolescence, including introversion, sexuality and drug use. Chbosky makes several references to other literary works, films and pop culture in general.
Although Chbosky's first book was a commercial success, it was banned in some American schools for its content and received mixed reviews from literary critics. In 2012, he adapted and directed a film version starring Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson. The film boosted the novel's sales, and the book reached The New York Times Best Seller list.
The idea for the novel came from a difficult period in Chbosky's life. He was experiencing a "bad breakup" which led him to ask, "Why do such good people let themselves get treated so badly?" The story began when Chbosky was in school, evolving from another book on which he was working. When he wrote the sentence, "I guess that's just one of the perks of being a wallflower" he "realized that somewhere in that ... was the kid I was really trying to find." Chbosky began writing the novel in the summer of 1996 while he was in college, finishing it two drafts later in the summer of 1998. The idea of anonymous letters came from a real experience; during his senior year in high school, Chbosky wrote an anonymous letter to Stewart Stern about how Rebel Without a Cause had influenced him. A year and a half later, Stern found Chbosky and became his mentor.
Charlie is loosely based on the author, and Chbosky included "countless details" in the novel from the time he lived in Pittsburgh. He said, "Charlie was [his] hope in the form of a character" and has described him as the "closest [character] to [his] heart". The other characters were "pieces of real people in [his] life"; Chbosky focused on people's struggles and what they are passionate about, attempting to "hone in [on] the essence of each." The characters of Sam and Patrick were an "amalgamate and celebration" of several people Chbosky has met; Sam was based on girls who confided in him, and Patrick was "all the kids I knew who were gay and finding their way to their own identity."
The story begins with a quiet, sensitive, 15-year-old boy named Charlie writing letters about his life to an unknown recipient. He discusses his first year at high school, grappling with two traumatic experiences from his past: the suicide of his only middle-school friend, Michael, a year before and the death of his Aunt Helen (his favorite aunt) during his early childhood.
His English teacher Bill notices Charlie's passion for reading and writing, and assigns him extracurricular books and reports. Although he is a wallflower, Charlie is befriended by two seniors: Patrick and Sam. Patrick is secretly dating Brad, a closeted football player, and Sam is Patrick's stepsister. Charlie does not admit his attraction to Sam, who already has a boyfriend. He is accepted by their group of friends and begins experiencing a new life, experimenting with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. As Charlie engages with his new friends he can control his flashbacks of Aunt Helen, who died in a car crash on her way to buy him a birthday gift. Sam gives him a single kiss when he tells her that he has never been kissed.
Mary Elizabeth, a member of the group, invites Charlie to the school's Sadie Hawkins dance and he begins a desultory relationship with her. During a game of Truth or Dare, when dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room he kisses Sam; Mary Elizabeth storms out, the rest of the group shuns him and Patrick suggests that Charlie stay away from Sam for a while. His flashbacks return, and he goes back to seeing a psychiatrist.
Patrick and Brad's relationship is discovered by Brad's abusive father. When Patrick is bullied by the football players at lunch the next day and Brad calls him a "faggot," he attacks him. Charlie breaks up the fight, again winning the respect of Sam and her friends. Patrick brings him to a park where gay men engage in sexual activity; he kisses Charlie impulsively and then apologizes, but Charlie understands that he is recovering from his romance with Brad.
As the school year ends, Charlie is anxious about losing his older friends—especially Sam, who is leaving for a summer college-preparatory program and has learned that her boyfriend cheated on her. When Charlie helps her pack, they talk about his feelings for her; she is angry that he never acted on them. They make out, but when Sam touches his inner thigh he becomes frightened. Charlie sees her and his other friends off to college, and is bombarded the next day by memories of Aunt Helen touching him as Sam did.
In an epilogue, Charlie is discovered that night by his parents in a trancelike state. He is catatonic and does not show any movement despite being hit reluctantly by his father. After being admitted to a mental hospital, it emerges that Helen sexually abused him when he was young, but his love for her (and empathy for her troubled youth) made him repress those memories. This psychological trauma explains his flashbacks and derealization phases throughout the book. In two months Charlie is released, and Sam and Patrick visit him. He comes to terms with his past: "Even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there". Charlie decides to "participate" in life, and his letter-writing ends.
- Charlie: The main character who writes to his anonymous recipient, and the narrator of the story.
- Patrick: Charlie's best friend who helps find himself through the novel, by encouraging him to be himself, along with his stepsister Sam.
- Sam: Patrick's stepsister and Charlie's friend, whom Charlie has romantic feelings for.
- Bill: Charlie's English teacher, and first friend at high school.
- Mary Elizabeth: Friend of Patrick and Sam; Charlie's first girlfriend though it doesn't work out.
- Alice: Friend of Patrick, Sam, Mary Elizabeth, and Charlie.
- Bob: Stoner friend of Patrick and Sam.
- Charlie's Dad: A minor character in the story
- Charlie's Mom: A minor character in the story.
- Aunt Helen: Charlie's aunt, who he considers his "favorite person in the world" but who Charlie later realizes molested him when he was younger.
- Charlie's sister: Charlie's older sister. She and Charlie grow distant when Charlie starts high school, although her having an abortion with Charlie's help works to rekindle their bond.
- Charlie's brother: Star athlete who goes off to college at the beginning of the book
- Michael: Charlie's best friend throughout middle school until he committed suicide.
- Craig: Sam's boyfriend early in the novel, though their relationship ended.
- Brad: He is Patrick's boyfriend throughout the majority of the novel, although their relationship is kept a secret due to him not being open about his sexuality.