Twenty-five years ago, on Feb. 1, 1999, Stephen Chbosky introduced the world to a character named Charlie through a series of letters in the phenomenal coming-of-age novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” “Perks” tackles themes of love, sexuality, abuse, mental health and much more. The novel captures many of the struggles of a teenager, and while it can be intense at times, its relatability is what has allowed it to remain a must-read for teenagers 25 years later.
When reflecting on “Perks” it is necessary to understand some of the aspects of the novel that make it so interesting and appealing. The novel is an epistolary novel, meaning the entire novel is written in the form of letters. Every letter begins with “Dear friend” and ends with “Love always,” clearly establishing a connection between the reader and Charlie.
Additionally, at the beginning of the book, Charlie writes, “I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me.” This quote defines the nature of the book and informs how we, as readers, interpret the book. As this quote indicates, all of the names in the book are not the real names of the characters, which sets a divide between Charlie’s life experience and the reader’s experience. And yet, even though we do not know the whole truth of Charlie’s life, we feel a connection to him.
The emotion in the book is raw, and the way Chbosky writes as Charlie truly makes it feel like Charlie is writing directly to the reader. Across just over 200 pages, we get glimpses into Charlie’s struggles and watch him grow from a closed-off, lonely teenager to one who has started to address his struggles and is willing to open up more to the world. While readers may not be able to connect to every aspect of Charlie’s life, it is hard not to find him, or other characters like Sam and Patrick, relatable in some way.
Chbosky’s novel also resulted in a film adaptation in 2012, which brought Charlie’s story to an even broader audience. The film is a beautifully done adaptation that captures the essence of the novel perfectly, likely due to Chbosky serving as the director and screenwriter.
Much like the novel, the film has stood the test of time, boasting an 85% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The star of the film, aside from Chbosky’s directing and writing, is easily Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie. Lerman portrays Charlie with such heart, and it is clear how much work he put into the character. Emma Watson’s performance as Sam also deserves praise, both for her portrayal of the complex character and the strength of her chemistry with Lerman.
It is often hard for coming-of-age films and films that focus on the high school experience to feel authentic. Many of the high school films we see today seem to lack knowledge of the actual teenage experience. They spend too much time trying to be relatable by including random slang, irrelevant pop culture references and casting actors in their 30s to play teenagers. “Perks” remains one of the greatest coming-of-age films because it does none of those things.
At the time of filming, the core three stars of the film (Watson, Lerman and Ezra Miller as Patrick) were all in their early 20s or younger. Sure, the actors were not the exact age of the characters, but they were close enough that their performances feel genuine and relatable. Watching the film back, it is hard to think of another film that so authentically captures teenage relationships and the high school experience.
Needless to say, “Perks” remains relevant even 25 years after the novel’s release. Even amid backlash, as it often finds itself on multiple ‘Banned Books’ lists, teenagers still gravitate to the novel. Chbosky’s intimate, emotional story is one that so many can relate to and find comfort in. “Perks” will continue to impact young people’s lives for decades to come.