Charlie is an incredibly nervous high-school freshman, concerned with starting not only another level of his education, but another level of his life (probably much like you freshers). ‘Socially awkward’, he doesn’t know into which vein of life he is supposed to thread himself, and the book is his memoir of the year where everything changed for him, where there was young possibility, endless firsts, and the potential to ‘be infinite’..
At first, the language of this short piece can seem surprisingly simple, and the plot might seem, well, basic, upon first glance. But herein lies the deception.
Below the surface of a seemingly artless story is where the ‘art’ indeed lies, as Charlie’s subtle and poignant observations and reflections on the world around him are gradually brought to light, covering everything from sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll with a solid dose of friendship and teenage hormones mixed in.
There were many similarities between Charlie’s experiences of this new age and my own upon starting at Warwick. People change. Your perceptions change. And the world is not as it once was.
Particularly enjoyable are the references back to everything decent about the 90s- from Pink Floyd and MASH to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Although this book is now 20 years old, it has found an entirely new readership in our generation wishing to reminisce about their questionable tastes back in the day.
My only criticism is that author Chbosky comes across a bit too keen when representing every character as flawed. There is no norm here – nothing to contrast with Charlie and his misfit gang of rebellious friends or emotionally troubled siblings. It is true that your teens and early twenties can be a turbulent time, but to have this constant full-on disruption throughout a fairly short piece can leave the reader feeling a little- dizzy.
Let’s not get me started on the film. There is no club of ‘wallflowers’ as the marketing campaign makes out, Charlie is singled out and this is what highlights him as the unique, quiet-yet-wise watchman who sees all and hears all yet says nothing; and at no point in the book does Sam declare ‘welcome to the island of misfit toys’- apparently the very essence of the Emma-Watson-face-based trailer.
This is a story with highs- moments of ecstasy, screaming along to your favourite Smiths song from the back of a moving car, and the lows- making a snow angel while coming down from an LSD rush; but throughout the ride you feel tied to Charlie, and by the final chapters so completely ensconced that you have to reach the end- the end of his freshman year, the end of his nightmares, the end of his letters handwritten to you, the reader.