The novel follows Charlie, painfully shy, introspective, highly intelligent and socially awkward. He is a wallflower, watching on the outskirts while people live their lives. On the advice of his teacher, he starts putting himself in new situations, and what follows is one of the best years of his life. Charlie is introduced to a world of dating, music, drama, new friends; a world of sex, drugs, musicals and books. Charlie was content to life his life on the fringes, but now is the time for him to see what life is really all about.
Charlie was a average and elusive character. His frank discourse so often reminded me of a child, which evoked deep endearing feelings from me, at least at the beginning of the novel. The book is set from Charlie’s perspective and, considering how painfully awkward he is, the style of writing reflected that: it was astonishingly simple and the were sentences rigidly structured. It was always “This happened, and then this, and then this and now I am sad.” It is suggested that Charlies has some sort of disability, but it is never specified, so I understood the need for this particular style of writing in order to get into Charlie’s head.
It worked, at least for a while. And then it began to feel like reading this book was a chore, rather than a pleasure. The writing style grew dry very quickly and achieved the opposite desired effect. I could not connect with Charlie because I began to find him repetitive and artless. It is a shame, because I so very much wanted to like him.
Patrick and Sam felt greatly removed from the novel, despite them being Charlie’s best friends. They were present in scenes, but at the same time they were transparent characters. Sam was the clichéd next-door-neighbour type of girl that the protagonist can’t help but fall for, while Patrick was a stereotypical gay boy. They did not feel like fully-fleshed out characters, but rather like poor attempts at one. This greatly confused me, as I so enjoyed their characters in the companion film. Chbosky actually wrote the screenplay so I don’t understand how his characters could be so different. Perhaps this is also a testament to the elementary writing style.
The plot was, frankly, all over the place. I personally felt that there was a mix of too many issues and I think the book could have greatly profited from a narrow look at one or two of these issues, rather than a dozen. The result would have been a cleaner novel that would have allowed more people to emotionally connect to. It was almost like Chbosky sat down and wrote a list of all the things a stereotypical teenager from an American movie would do and included every single one of them in his novel. It was also incredibly awkward to read about these issues as Charlie, while fifteen years old, reminded me of a child.
Perhaps one of the reasons I did not enjoy this novel as much as I thought I would have was because I expected it to be exactly like the film. While the film was accurate with certain events and scenes, there were many new scenes that were included which positively affected the movie. Unfortunately, because I had watched the film, I also knew what the big reveal at the end of the novel was going to be and I was not as shocked or disturbed as I ought to have been.
Overall, I was disappointed in this novel. I expected a well-written coming-of-age novel about a socially awkward teen, but received a superficial look at teenagers and their issues instead. I can certainly see elements of a good novel in this book, and understand why many other people loved it, but I am just not part of that group.