Why ‘Perks’ is perfection

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Over the course of blogging, I hope to blog a little about some of the songs, movies and books that have touched me the most or mean the most to me. I am kicking this off with one of my favourite things in this world; ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ – both book and movie.

Just before Christmas, I watched ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ for around the fifth time and am currently re-reading the book for the second time. Those who truly know me and those who follow me on Twitter will have seen a lot of posts related to ‘Perks’ and probably know that it means a lot to me. I want to take the time to write to write properly about why it is so important to me, however.

I am re-reading it for a few reasons. Firstly, I am about to lend it to a new friend of mine. I really hope she loves it almost as much as I do. Secondly, I have now watched the movie version so many times that I am more familiar with that than the book. I therefore want to re-identify myself with the original and definitive form of the story.

‘The Perks of being a wallflower’ was a book recommended to me by a good friend. We were discussing books when she asked “Have you read Perks?”. Such a simple line, but one which changed my life. It’s amazing how a few words have the ability to be so significant. I replied that I had not and quickly Googled it just to see what it was about. I discovered it’s author is Stephen Chbosky (who I found had written the screen-play for the movie adaptation of my favourite musical, Rent) and it was first released in 1999. After being won over by the plot outline, I decided to give it a go. I saved it as a memo on my phone and on my next visit to a book store, I purchased it.

Fast forward a couple of months and a friend of mine at school was walking around our sixth form area with his head buried deep in it. This, in addition to the discovery that a movie adaptation was just a couple of months away from release, encouraged me to dig out my copy and begin reading. I am someone who greatly prefers to read the book before seeing its movie adaptation.

Perks follows a fifteen year old boy who refers to himself as Charlie, although he explains that his name in the book is fictional as he doesn’t wish the reader to find out who he is. It’s an epistolary novel written through the form of letters, in which we can assume we fulfil the role of the ‘friend’ Charlie is referring to in each letter. Charlie keeps us informed of his day to day experiences and some of his personal struggles. An introverted character, Charlie struggles to fit in at High School and prefers instead to ‘observe’. Part of his loneliness perhaps stems from the loss of his best friend, Michael, who committed suicide the year before. As the book progresses, more and more details about Charlie’s past emerge and we begin to understand a lot of why he acts in the manner he does. Stephen Chbosky writes beautifully as Charlie and I often refer to the book as my ‘quote bible’ due to the high amount of exceptionally wise and truthful things said within the story.

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To tell the truth, Perks came along at a time when I really needed it. I was feeling hopelessly low and really needed something to cling to other than a person. I often find I become attached to songs, movies and books when I feel like that because they are things that are always there to be accessed in times when people are too busy for you. To be able to lose yourself in a book/song/movie is a beautiful thing. It gives us all a chance to leave our tangled lives and this world and to enter those/that of another.

These days, whilst an avid book fan, I read quite slowly. To finish Perks in a week, like I did, is incredibly fast for me. I could have finished it sooner too, had I not limited myself on a couple of days to ensure it lasted longer. I couldn’t bear the thought of finishing it when reading it was what kept me going. It’s what I looked forward to every single evening when I would tuck myself into bed, pick up my copy and lose myself in Charlie’s world and forget about mine.

I also feel I can relate to Charlie more than I ever have any other protagonist in a book. Those that have read it or seen the movie may think “Why?” at this statement. I haven’t been through many of the ordeals Charlie has. Charlie has it much, much worse than I do. My so called ‘problems’ are minimal and hardly worth mentioning in comparison to Charlie’s. But I understand Charlie’s way of thinking. He thinks too much and too fast, as do I. He observes others and questions their motives and actions, as do I. He has periods of feeling low and lonely, as do I. I’m not saying I am the only one who feels this way as I know many others do and have. I am just saying I can completely identify with parts of Charlie’s thinking.

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How do I know I’m not alone in ‘understanding’ Charlie? I know this because of the cult following Perks has and from the endless mass of blogs and fan pages dedicated to it. It’s amazing to be able to feel like somebody understands, be it the fictional character or the author writing through his protagonist. It’s a mutual understanding and a powerful one it is too. This is more than likely another reason ‘Perks’ is so popular – it unites millions of people, whether they’re happy, unhappy, lonely or feeling loved, it covers all emotions and binds everyone, no matter how they’ve feeling, together.

Another thing Perks has done is opened my mind. It’s changed my perspective on many things. It also  introduced me to new things. Charlie lists the books he’s assigned by his friendly English teacher Bill in addition to the songs he discovers and loves. It’s because of this book that I was introduced to ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie and the gorgeous ‘Dusk’ by Genesis – two songs I wasn’t familiar with until this book (well, I’d heard of Heroes but never given it a listen…) I also read ‘The Catcher in the Rhye’ which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A few weeks after finishing the book, I went along to the cinema to see it with a friend and it did not disappoint at all. Of course there’s differences and parts missing because that’s always the way with movie adaptations but with Stephen fulfilling both the screenplay writer and director roles, he couldn’t go wrong as it’s his book! I believe all authors should contribute to movie adaptations as much as they can. Stephen remained faithful to the book and added a few minor improvements and comedic moments too. I was in tears at the end of the movie (prior to this I’d only cried at two movies) and went along to watch it again two weeks later. No matter how many times I watch the movie, it never fails to move, inspire and touch me, just as the book does. The cast portrayed the characters fantastically and loyally which is all I, as a massive Perks fan, could ask for.

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Perks has something for everyone. Everyone can relate to it and that’s what makes it so special. Everyone has felt part of what Charlie has and everyone can identify with the themes of love, loneliness and happiness. It serves as a memoir for adults, who through reading it, can recall their teenage years and it acts as a guide-book for teenagers and young adults. Most of all, it encourages us to be hopeful and active in life. To participate and not simply observe. To love and not hate.

I will never forget when someone told me she “Found it a bit gay to be honest”. I accept everyone has their own opinions and Perks may not be for everyone but an attitude like that shows a severe lack of understanding and lack of empathy. Anyone who says they don’t feel at least a little touched by the story is lying. It’s impossible not to, even if it’s not for you.

I sometimes wonder if Stephen Chbosky had any idea how important his book would become to young people when he was writing it. I wonder if even now, he has any idea of its significance. I’m just one in thousands of people who have been touched by one of the greatest contributions to literature ever. Perks is a book to guide, to teach and to heal. It’s a book to be read over and over again. A book to be passed from friend to friend. A book to be passed down through generations. I must thank Stephen for creating something that means so much to me. And I must also thank my friend who I will forever be indebted to for introducing me to this book.

If you haven’t read Perks, I could not recommend it strongly enough. The movie is absolutely incredible too but the book is still best and tells the story exceptionally.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite”                                                                                                                                                                 Charlie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.

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