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Chbosky, Stephen. (1999). The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Simon and Schuster. 213 pages.

Grade Range: 10-12

Genre: contemporary fiction

Summary and Critique

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes place in an unknown setting and in the second person point-of-view. The main character, a teenage boy named Charlie, addresses letters to an anonymous friend. Charlie is a sincere and sensitive character, who suffers from episodes of depression sparked by sexual abuse as a young child. His best friend commits suicide before he starts high school, and while starting over he is drawn to a crowd of friends who support his individuality and love for writing, music, and poetry. His story contains bits and pieces of any reader's story. The novel's style may touch on various teenage topics like experimentation with drugs and alcohol, sexuality, making friends, family relationships, and loss, but it does not dwell on any of these topics. This lack of focus is what makes the story seem so realistic and true to so many Teens who read it.

    Though a bit extreme at times, Perks presents issues to which most any teenager can relate. Professional critics chastise it for being too trite; however, it received rave reviews from its intended teenage audience. Due to rather controversial subject matter, Perks should probably not be taught to an entire class of secondary age students; however, teachers should consider including this story on a book list for individual reading and incorporating many excerpts from the book into lessons on other readings.

About the Author

    Stephen Chbosky grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Southern California's Filmic Writing Program. He is both a screenwriter and a novelist. Chbosky received the Abraham Polonsky Screenwriting award for his screenplay Everything Divided and has won the Best Narrative Feature honors at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Chbosky's most recent publication is Pieces: A Collection of New Voices.

    For more information on Stephen Chbosky:

    http://www.collageon.org/chbosky/ A Fanlist for Chbosky.

Themes/Topics

    Families

    Friends and Enemies

    Generations

    Challenges and Triumphs

    The Individual vs. Society

    Love, Sex, and Romance

Media Connections

Movies

    Baby Love (1996) This documentary contains interviews with teen mothers from diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The teen mothers discuss their views on love, sex, relationships, responsibilities and parenting.

    Back to the Future (1985) Time travel story about a teenager in the 1980s who goes back in time, where he must correct several problems that he caused.

    The Breakfast Club (1985) Five very different Teens learn about relationships, friendship, love, and cliques while serving detention together.

    Dead Poet's Society (1989) Teenagers at a private school learn about life, friendship, and literature from each other and from a passionate English teacher.

    Fifteen & Pregnant (1998) A fifteen-year-old girl must make difficult decisions concerning her pregnancy.

    Ten Tiny Love Stories (2001) Interviews with ten women about love, relationships, and dating.

    The Wave (1981) Film adaptation of the book, based on a true story, of history teacher Burt Ross's experiment called the Wave, where he attempts to demonstrate for his students the negative consequences of peer pressure and the relevance of fascism in their lives.

    Boyz N the Hood (1991) Three friends in a violent South Central Los Angeles neighborhood approach their similar lives in very different ways.

    Welcome to the Dollhouse. (1995) Both humorous and depressing, Welcome to the Dollhouse depicts the experiences of an unpopular and unattractive 7th grade girl.

    Where the Heart Is (2000) A seventeen-year old pregnant girl is forced to fend for herself while living in a Wal-Mart after her boyfriend abandons her.

    Girl, Interrupted (1999) Film adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's autobiographical novel exploring her time spent in a psychiatric hospital.

    Dangerous Minds (1995) A new teacher in an inner city school attempts to help her students.

Television

    My So-Called Life Explores the lives of a group of teenagers during the early 1990s. Addresses such issues as sexuality, drugs/alcohol, families, and dating/love.

Music

    "Landslide." Performed by Fleetwood Mac. The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac. WEA/Reprise, 2002. A woman describes the difficulty adjusting to her new life since she and her significant other ended their relationship.

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Morrison, Toni. (1970). The Bluest Eye: a Novel. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 164pp. Addresses the hierarchy of color in the African-American culture as perceived by some African-Americans.

    Simpson, C. and Simpson, D. (1997). Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. New York: Rosen. 129 pp. A guide for Teens on dealing with PTSD.

    Sperekas, Nicole. (2000). Suicide Wise: Taking Steps Against Teen Suicide. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers. 64 pp. Information for Teens on suicide.

    Wittlinger, Ellen. (1999). Hard Love. New York: Simon & Schuster. 224pp. A depressed teenage boy befriends and later falls in love with a confused lesbian teenage writer.

    Salinger, J.D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 277pp. A teenager riddles with angst is expelled from prep school.

Lesson Ideas

    (1) "Songs from the Novel" Charlie discusses several songs in the b4teens_book. Most of them are cross-generational and thematic to this character's life. You might want to try and burn Charlie's compilation onto a CD and play it for students who may not be familiar with the songs, but want to understand Charlie better (pg. 81 and 82).

    (2) "Silent Suffering" Have students read the short story, "The Bending of a Twig" by Alfred Otero y Herrera (Annotation found in Here My Voice: a Multicultural Anthology of Literature from the United States, edited by Laurie King, 1994). This story deals with abuse and"silent suffering." Have students compare and contrast Charlie's suffering with the character in this story.

    (3) "Soundtrack" One thing that Charlie likes to do in Perks… is create compilations of songs for his friends. Have the students create a song list that they would like to record onto a CD or tape for a friend, teacher, family member, or as a way to remember a certain event or person that has changed that student's life. Each student should compile the songs according to a theme. After writing down each song/artist that will be one the compilation, the students should also write one or two sentences that describe why he/she is using that particular song.

    (4) "Infinite" On page 33 of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie, is on his way to his first party. He describes the feeling of that night as "infinite." What do you think he means by that? Has there ever been a time where you have felt "infinite"? Describe this time in the form of a letter to an anonymous friend.

(Review written by Emily Wolinsky and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)

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