I finally finished this amazing coming of age novel after my third sitting last night. I know it sounds lame because really, this book is so engrossing that otherwise I would have finished it in a couple of hours time. However, I had to take a while to digest this 224-page novel in parts because it truly spoke to me and connected to me as a person, even if it was presented in the perspective of a 15-year-old freshman which I am now way beyond.
Perks is the story of “Charlie” — no surname, a teenager who has endured many tragedies in his life for his young age. His favorite aunt died on his birthday (These are really not spoilers, believe me) and his best friend commits suicide, leaving him with no one to hang out with on his freshman year. This is truly tough for anyone, especially for a person who does not interact well with people and would choose to stay in the background observing rather than “participate” as what his English teacher Bill keeps encouraging him to do. Charlie is quite content with his status as the invisible guy but he comes across stepsiblings Patrick and Sam, who are both older than him and eventually become his two closest friends. Throughout his year-long journey, Charlie experiences the joy of discovery, the pain of love, abandonment, reunion and many other things that people usually spend a lifetime to go through. His old soul provides great perspective for readers no matter what age or status in life.
Perks is presented as a series of letters by Charlie to the readers — much like a journal of his experiences, feelings and evolution as a person. What truly struck me about the book was the voice in which it was written. Charlie is a character that just comes to life, so honest and refreshing and his narration of the events in his life is just so believable and relatable that his pain is palpalable, his confusion affecting. Charlie talks about his friends in a way that introduces readers to them as well, characters who are young and flawed, characters who make mistakes and learn from them, some get stuck, some move on, some react as expected and after reading the book, readers are bound to question what happened to each one — Bob, the pot seller, Brad, the closet gay/jock, the opinionated Mary Elizabeth, film buff Alice, Craig and Peter, and most especially Patrick and Sam, who take Charlie in and befriend him, no strings attached. Charlie also talks about his siblings and and his parents and his cousins but nowhere did he mention their names. Its amazing how readers connect to these faceless characters despite their anonymity, I know I did.
Its impossible not to like Charlie as a person and not just as a fictional character in the book. I think he is a lot like Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s Greg Heffley, except with deeper and darker issues — death, depression, drugs, sexuality, relationships and family issues. But my favorite part of the book was when Patrick declared him as a wallflower and said it like it was a good thing.
I guess most people go through their teenage (and beyond years) trying to belong, and while Charlie originally starts out as an outsider looking in, he begins to affect people and build relationships with them because he spends time enough to learn about them. He cares about people — really cares about them so much that he gets hurt when they do and he puts their needs before his own. Charlie is a good kid, despite being troubled and I was glad that Bill told him he was special even when nobody told him so. Sometimes, people just need to hear that no matter how cheesy it sounds. While I was reading this book, I could not help but reflect on my own experiences in life and put myself in Charlie’s shoes.
I also like that Charlie is a budding writer who likes to read a lot. The novel was dated in the early 90s when Charlie was 15 and I would peg myself around the same age so I could relate to his time very well. And he likes music too (most especially from The Smiths). From the book alone, I’ve discovered some really cool songs that I am doing to download really soon.
Perks reads like an indie movie (which it will be soon enough) and transforms a rather ordinary boy into a character that I would remember above many others for a good long while. Written in a voice that turns normal into extraordinary, Stephen Chbosky deserves high praise for writing this amazing novel. It makes me want to be infinite too, like Charlie, and Sam and Patrick. I think I’m going to cry a lot when I see the movie and hear the songs and meet Charlie in the flesh (Note that I approve of the cast 100% — can’t wait till September when it comes out). Perks is a novel about being more than what we limit ourselves to be. It is a story of possibilities and “participating.” I would strongly recommend this book to everyone without batting an eyelash. Definitely one of the best that I’ve read in my lifetime.