How can one find in a book the strength to wade against the drag of anxiety and loneliness?
An incessant creature of habit, throughout all six years of high school I had one ritual on the run up to the first day of school: re-reading my well-thumbed copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, to then watch the 2012 film adaptation the night before the big day. It didn’t begin as such a rigid set-up: I had merely happened upon the book the week before I went into S1, and watched the film for the first time the night before in an effort to calm my nerves. But, of course, being my sentimental self, I made it into an annual tradition.
For the reader who has never had the pleasure of experiencing Chbosky’s seminal 1999 YA novel, it follows American high-schooler, Charlie, in his freshman year as he struggles with his mental health, making new friends, and finding his place in the high school food chain. The writing is simplistic, but purposefully so – the novel is written in the form of letters from our protagonist, Charlie, to an unknown character referred to only as “Friend”. Chbosky deliberately overuses words like “incidentally” in the way that kids do when they learn a new word and want to sound smart; it is thoroughly clever moves like this that allow the reader to feel as though they are genuinely reading a 14-year-old boy’s diary.
The unexpected part of discovering this novel and this back-to-school ritual was not only its comfort, a singular constant in tumultuous times, but also the finding of different pieces of myself in the book upon each re-read. Coming up into S1, I related to Charlie’s anxieties at the thought of entering the new arena of high school. Losing my friend group as I moved on to S3 allowed me to sympathise with Charlie’s isolation at the beginning of the novel. And upon finally acquiring a social life in the summer before my final year, I understood at last Charlie’s relief in finding solid friendships in the characters of Sam and Patrick. In the ever-changing landscape of high school, with all of its challenges and its occasional feelings of loneliness, it was nice to have a friend in Chbosky’s book. In the words of Charlie himself: “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons.” In the end, I am oddly grateful that I am who I am today, in some part, thanks to The Perks of Being a Wallflower.