I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky back in 2012 just before the movie was released. I read it with my then seventeen year old naïve mind. Recently I have been deciding what text I want to study for my dissertation (I was between Perks or The Catcher in the Rye) so I figured it was about time to reread Perks to refresh my memory and make a decision.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is first and foremost a coming of age young adult novel about Charlie who is coming to terms with a few events in his life that have affected his mental health. Charlie is a little naïve himself, although incredibly intelligent. He’s kind of floating through life when he meets Sam and Patrick who quickly become two of the greatest people he’s ever met and help him deal with the world around him.
My major confession is that when I read it the second time I kind of slogged through. I don’t know whether I wasn’t in the mood to read it or I found the story to be a little duller than the first time now I know what happens. I still enjoyed it, and it’s still one of my most favourite told stories of a teenager. There’s something special in Chbosky’s writing which really connects you to Charlie. But I must admit I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.
I have a theory for why this happened. Reading Perks again made me view Charlie and what he was going through in a completely different way. I suddenly had so much more respect for this character than I remembered and understood more of what was going on inside his head. However this also meant that I got further in to the story this time (I read it the first time literally the day before the movie came out). There are some dark parts to Perks that you wouldn’t necessarily see unless you focused on the text properly. I also think I might have understood and empathised with the characters a lot more now that I read the story as a twenty year old. Perks is very much a young adult novel, but my advice would be to put it off a few years until you’ve experienced life a little more.
Anyone who has read Perks before knows about the tragedy regarding Charlie’s Aunt (if you don’t its easily found on google) but now I feel like there was so much more underlying and it takes a second read to really understand how damaged Charlie is as a person. I don’t think this spoiled the novel for me, but I think it made the read a little tougher to get through.
This got me thinking about rereading stories and getting inside characters minds fully. Does it take another read to actually know everything about the character and understand them? Or can you do that in one quick read?
I guess it all depends on how you process texts and characters and your ability to understand characters. I’m not saying at all that I’m going to now reread every book I ever have read just to try and understand the characters a little more, but I definitely think that rereading a book can help me get in to the head of a difficult protagonist a little more.