The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Author: Stephen Chbosky

First published: February 1st 1999, MTV Books

Edition: ebook version, 139 pages

Genre: Coming-of-age

Age group: Young Adult

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★

The Perks of Being a WallflowerSynopsis:

The author captures the voice of a boy teetering on the brink of adulthood. Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. He’s a wallflower–shy and introspective, and intelligent beyond his years, if not very savvy in the social arts. We learn about Charlie through the letters he writes to someone of undisclosed name, age, and gender, a stylistic technique that adds to the heart-wrenching earnestness saturating this teen’s story. Charlie encounters the same struggles that many kids face in high school–how to make friends, the intensity of a crush, family tensions, a first relationship, exploring sexuality, experimenting with drugs–but he must also deal with his best friend’s recent suicide. Charlie’s letters take on the intimate feel of a journal as he shares his day-to-day thoughts and feelings.

My thoughts:

The book came out as a total surprise for me, in the fact that I was so torn about it through out the whole reading process. There were moments when I didn’t like it at all and actually considered to stop reading, but then my mind would change 180 degrees. In the end it took me quite some time of thinking about the idea of the book to finally grasp it and understand that it’s actually good. My impression of it would probably have been even better if I read it when being a teenager, whom this book is clearly written for.

The facts that bothered me about this books still remain but they can’t be taken so out of the story or superficially. The main character Charlie is quite a unique person. We know he’s quite introspective and in the beginning of his first year of high school he doesn’t have friends at all. The most disturbing quality about him is his sensitivity. Whatever bad things he hears about or whatever injustices he witnesses greatly affect him. That’s why he’s always sad and cries a lot. This fact was one of those to almost turn me off the book. I thought this boy was really weird. Not only he writes strange letters about his life to an unknown person, but he also cries all the time and his family and friends treat him like a 6-year-old.

But as I progressed with the story and lived with Charlie through all the issues that bothered him and witnessed the things he had to witness, I couldn’t help being impressed with how strong he is as a person. And he went through quite a lot for a typical 16-year-old.  He was molested as a child by his beloved aunt, his only best friend at school committed suicide, he saw a girl being raped and his sister being hit. One of his new friends is gay and Charlie defended him from being beaten in school. His sister gets pregnant and Charlie takes her for an abortion.

It’s obvious that people surrounding Charlie try nevertheless to protect him from all of this, but what he sees affects him a lot. That’s why Charlie’s sad most of the time, because he takes all of this very personally. And that’s what’s so great about this boy. No matter how immature and different he may seem when compared to his peers, he is the only one who can see the very essence of things, the one to listen, understand and to sympathize. There’s not much teenagers around who can be as insightful as he is. Mostly they try to drown themselves in alcohol, narcotics and smoking.

There are a lot of parallels being made of this story to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, and I think they do have something in common. Aside from both being coming-of-age stories about two teenager boys who seem smarter beyond their age, this boys are also shown as the world’s aloofs. Holden is as perceptive as Charlie, but not as sympathetic. The world is too “phony” for him and he struggles to find innocence and kindness in it. Whilst I think, Charlie accepts the world as it is, he wants to understand it and to feel part of it.

The story is very thought provoking and I’m still figuring it out. Even though I’m reading a different book now, my mind still goes back to The Perks. And that’s what’s great about this book, it makes you think and doesn’t let you move on so easily without thinking what your own place in the world is and how you perceive it.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

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Title: White Oleander

Author: Janet Fitch

First published: May 31st 1999, Little Brown & Co

Edition: ebook, 384 pages

Genre: Coming-of-age, Drama

Age group: Adult

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

White Oleander

Synopsis:

 Astrid is the only child of a single mother, Ingrid, a brilliant, obsessed poet who wields her luminous beauty to intimidate and manipulate men. Astrid worships her mother and cherishes their private world full of ritual and mystery – but their idyll is shattered when Astrid’s mother falls apart over a lover. Deranged by rejection, Ingrid murders the man, and is sentenced to life in prison. White Oleander is the unforgettable story of Astrid’s journey through a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself in impossible circumstances. Each home is its own universe, with a new set of laws and lessons to be learned. With determination and humor, Astrid confronts the challenges of loneliness and poverty, and strives to learn who a motherless child in an indifferent world can become. Oprah Winfrey enjoyed this gripping first novel so much that she not only made it her book club pick, she asked if she could narrate the audio release.

My thoughts:

I actually didn’t expect to like this book. It all started with watching the movie based on it. And while I really liked Michelle Pfeiffer and Alison Lohman in it, I didn’t quite grasp the whole idea of it.

Then I discovered that I have this book in my e-reader, so I decided to give it a go.

The book turned out as not an easy read. In fact there were times when it was really hard for me to go on with it because of Janet Fitch’s very realistic description and all those hardships Astrid had to overcome. But then I realized that that’s what’s really great about this book, it shows the life as it is, and one can’t help admiring Astrid’s strength and determination.

The main theme of the book which really stood out to me is the theme of survival in the world of people. A person can have it two different ways. The first is like Astrid’s mother Ingrid to “strive for beauty and balance, the sensual over the sentimental.” Or like Astrid, desperately trying to preserve all that’s dear to her heart, all that keeps her going. But neither of these paths can guarantee a happy ending.

I also really liked how complex the story is. It’s not only focuses on Astrid’s misfortunes as a foster child. As Astrid grows and builds her personality she goes through every important aspects of life, like family and kids, love, faith or money. And developing her own point of view on life, she struggles to finally become independent.

It’s not clear in the end whether she’s completely free from her mother’s influence. But the theme of finding home is also very strong in the story and for Astrid it’s still not set.

It’s also necessary to point out Janet Fitch’s writing. It’s really amazing and her descriptions are so realistic, if only for that the book needs to be read.