February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Other Tales of Teen Angst and Alienation

Since its publication in 1999, Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary novel (Pocket Books) has become a much passed around favorite among teens and a hot item for discussion groups (it has also appeared on ALA’s top 10 challenged books list five times in the last 10 years. Now, Charlie’s compelling account of his coming-of-age trials and tribulations has been re-envisioned for the big screen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13), adapted into screenplay format and directed by Chbosky himself, will be released by Summit Entertainment on September 21. Starring a cast of A-list young actors, the motion picture centers around the experiences of Charlie, an introverted, naïve, and delightfully endearing outsider (played by Logan Lerman of Percy Jackson fame) who is girding himself to tackle his freshman year of high school. Welcomed into a close-knit group of friends by two charismatic and kindhearted seniors, step-siblings Sam (Emma Watson in her first big post-Harry Potter role and sporting an American accent) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), Charlie navigates a roller coaster of emotions and events, experiencing first love, wrestling with the complexities of relationships, and trying to find a place to fit in. Teens can visit the movie’s website to view a trailer or watch a chat with the cast and author/director about the making of the movie.

Read the Book

MTV Books has published The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012; Gr 9 Up) with an eye-catching movie-poster cover featuring the trio of stars (a hardcover edition with the original jacket has also been reissued). Written as letters to an unidentified “Dear Friend,” 15-year-old Charlie’s straightforward narrative is filled with innocence and insight. Still reeling from the recent suicide of his best friend, Charlie skates alone on the edge of the social pond, until he is reeled in by two independent-minded seniors who value him for who he is (in fact, it’s Patrick who identifies him as a wallflower, explaining, “You see things. You keep quiet about them. You understand”). Though it’s a tough year—filled with family crises (including his sister’s unwanted pregnancy), ever-changing relationships (his head-over-heels feelings for Sam, his first girlfriend, a best friend who is gay), exposure to drugs and alcohol, and his own breakdown and recovery (sparked by difficult revelations about his childhood)—Charlie emerges all the stronger, ready to step out of his role as observer and participate in life. Events both heart-wrenching and high-flying are described with honesty, humor, and a spot-on adolescent perspective. YAs will find much to relate to here, as they begin to explore and ponder their own place in the world. This edition ends with a reading group guide, and a list of discussion questions is available at Simon & Schuster’s website. Teens may also be interested in exploring some of the works that are recommended to Charlie by his teacher (each of which affects him deeply), including J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

More Tales of Teen Angst and Alienation

Fan of Chbosky’s work and readers with a taste for edgy, realistic fiction will appreciate these novels about teenagers grappling with momentous events and life-altering relationships. Filled with heartbreak, tragedy, and hard-won realizations, these books are also emotionally empowering and surprisingly uplifting. Suggest these titles as read-alike recommendations or try out a tough-issues booktalk.

Writing to her ex-boyfriend, a jock named Ed who exists on the opposite end of the social specturm, free-spirited Min (short for Minerva and only her grandmother is allowed to call her Minnie), lover of old movies and dedicated tag-sale trawler, explains in no uncertain terms Why We Broke Up (2011, Little, Brown; Gr 9 Up). Supercharged with both humor and heartbreak, this book-length love/hate letter comes complete with a box of romance-related memorabilia—ticket stubs, a pinwheel folded note, faded flower petals, an opened condom wrapper, and more (each depicted by Maira Kalman in drenched-with-nostalgia full-color paintings). Min explains each item while recapping the crazy euphoria of their whirlwind relationship, expressing the bitterness and betrayal of their break up, and revealing her ability to gradually accept and move on. Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) gives voice to a dynamo of a character whose joyful and woeful matters of the heart will both entertain—and strike a chord with—teens.

Vera Dietz has spent her entire life trying to stay under the radar, a desire that seems more difficult than ever during her senior year of high school: her relationship with her father is shaky; she still has issues with the mother who deserted them years ago; and she just can’t seem to get over the loss of Charlie (her next-door neighbor, always best friend, and secret love), who recently died under mysterious circumstances. To make matters worse, Charlie is haunting her (mostly during her nighttime pizza-delivery runs), insisting that she clear his name as a suspect in a crime. Mostly told in Vera’s first-person narrative (with brief interludes from her father, the “Dead Kid,” and even the pagoda—a local landmark), A. S. King’s novel incorporates shifts in time to draw the veil back on past events and build toward the story’s satisfying climax. Funny yet poignant, quirky and surprisingly profound, the book takes on questions of destiny (are we fated to make the same mistakes as our parents?), responsibility to others (and the consequences of keeping secrets), forgiveness (of loved ones as well as ourselves), and the game-changing power of love. Readers will find it impossible to Please Ignore Vera Dietz (Knopf, 2010; Gr 9 Up), as she looks within and finds the courage to transform from “invisible… to invincible.”

When high school senior Clay Jensen receives a mysterious package containing seven cassette tapes, he’s astounded to discover that they were recorded by Hannah Baker, his fellow student and secret crush… and the girl who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah reveals the Th1rteen R3asons Why (Razorbill, 2007; Gr 7 Up) she took her own life, devoting a side of each tape to a particular individual and recounting his or her contributions to—and culpability for—her tragic act (she had made arrangements to ensure that all of those mentioned will receive, listen to, and send on the recordings). Good-guy Clay, who has long admired Hannah from afar, can’t imagine what he’s done to hurt her, and dreads finding out. Suspense and powerful emotions build to a boil as he hears her voice and discovers how she has been maligned, mistreated, and misused by so-called friends and acquaintances. The text masterfully blends Hannah’s narrative (written in italics) with Clay’s reactions (anger at those who damaged her, empathy for her feelings, regret for never reaching out to her), adding a sense of immediacy to the events described. As the tapes unwind, readers, like Clay, become engrossed in Hannah’s downward spiral and driven to discover the truth. Jay Asher’s affecting novel is impossible to put down, and YAs will keep reading right up to the last heartrending yet hopeful note.

Knowing that there must be more to life, 16-year-old Miles leaves his humdrum Florida existence behind and heads to an Alabama boarding school to seek “a Great Perhaps” (a phrase culled from François Rableais’s last words… Miles, another wallflower, is a collector of the “dying declarations” of famous people). At Culver Creek, his roommate dubs him “Pudge” (ironically, since Miles is stick-thin) and introduces him to a band of intelligent but prone to prank-playing, drinking, smoking, and otherwise misbehaving fellow students, including the smart, irreverent, beautiful, and incredibly sexy Alaska Young, with whom he falls hopelessly in love. However, despite her fun-loving personality, Alaska is troubled by her past and often tilts toward self-destructive behaviors. When her actions result in a devastating tragedy, Miles and his friends must try to make sense of complex—and now all too personal—quandaries about life and death, ultimately discovering a sense of balance and honoring her memory with a deftly envisioned, devilishly planned school-wide prank. Delightful humor, amazingly articulate language, and unique characters make John Green’s Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005; Gr 9 Up) unforgettable.

Wallflower fans may also enjoy viewing (and/or reading) It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010), based on Ned Vizzini’s YA novel (Hyperion, 2006), about a stressed-out teen who contemplates suicide but instead checks himself into a mental hospital. Click here for more info along with a lineup of great reads about kids who feel as though they have been pushed to the edge.

Publication Information

CHBOSKY, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Media tie-in ed. pap. $14. ISBN 9781451696196; ebook. $9.99. ISBN 9781439122433.

_____. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781451696202

Ea. vol: MTV Bks. 2012.

_____. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Recorded Books. Unabridged CD. Tr $72.75. ISBN 978141938928-3.

HANDLER, Daniel. Why We Broke Up. illus. by Maira Kalman. Little, Brown. 2011. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780316127257; ebook. $9.99. ISBN 9780316194587; Unabridged Audio CD. $26.98. ISBN 9781611132960.

KING, A.S. Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Knopf. 2010. PLB $19.99. ISBN 9780375965869; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375865862; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978037586564-0; ebook. $9.99. ISBN 9780375896170; Unabridged Compact Disc. $40. ISBN 9780307942104.

ASHER, Jay. Th1rteen R3asons Why. Razorbill. 2007. $17.99. ISBN 9781595141712; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781595141880; ebook. $9.99. ISBN 9781101539927.

GREEN, John. Looking for Alaska. Dutton. 2005. Tr $16.99 ISBN 9780525475064; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780142402511.

____. Brilliance Audio. Unabridged CD Library Audio Edition. $49.97. 97814558700426.



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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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