I cannot even begin to tell you how much I disliked this book for the first few chapters, in fact I’ll go as far as to say I was so close to putting it down and just stopping it there. I am not one for a epistolary novel – I hate stories in letter form actually and if I’m honest I would never have picked this book if I had thought for one minute I would have to read letters. Please don’t ask me why I dislike this particular form of writing I just do. However, and there is a however this novel (although it hasn’t changed my mind) has given me more of an insight into why I should attempt to read more letter form novels.
After my grumbles at the first few chapters I decided to just go with it, and I’m sure glad I did. There is something particular sweet about the character, Charlie who is writing these letters to an anonymous friend. Sweet and very, very sad. Charlie’s apparent mental incapacity to be ‘normal’ at some points I found a little hard to read. From the suicide of his best friend Micheal, to the death of the seemingly most loving person in his life Aunt Helen on his birthday you begin to suspect that this boy’s mental issues, such as depression and hallucinations are actually a form of PTSD. Misunderstood and alone Charlie is told by his advanced English teacher to ‘participate’ and as Charlie forces himself into situations where he has to participate in a social context. We read the emotionally-charged accounts of his days, of the friends he makes, his family, the wild but troubled Sam that he falls in love with and the beginnings of a spiral backdown into a depressive state which ultimately seems to save his life.
The series of letters addressed to the anonymous friend ring true in some regards about the life of a child in their teenage years and is utterly relatable, from the first awkward encounters of making friends, to the utterly scary thought of sex and love. Chbosky’s wonderfully and on-point descriptions of life as a teenager are immaculate but with the added input of Charlie’s problems. A favourite line in the book of mine is: “I just want you to know that you’re very special…and the only reason I’m telling you is that I don’t know if anyone else ever has.” What teenager, what person hasn’t wanted to be told their special. And this line for me is the crux of the story about Charlie.
From dressing up (or down) into a pair of glittery pants to take on the role of Rocky in a The Rocky Horror Picture Show which is something I can’t possibly explain in a short time, to dating Mary Elizabeth a Buddhist punk(?) who he truly doesn’t fancy, Charlie is a short space of time grows up and becomes his own person. Quite and unassuming, always watching and feeling everything that he sees Charlie is special, and it takes meeting a group of outcasts who become his world, in a sense to become a Charlie who can handle almost anything. In particular his two closest outcast friends; Sam and Patrick make this possible from Charlie. They show him a life full of being alive and in turn he creates and expresses his feelings for them by being infinite.
Of course, this book is full of dark places too. As Charlie begins to come alive in life his depression and hallucinations become more obvious and harder to hide. Ultimately a childhood event begins to be remembered by Charlie, squashed down until he became the wallflower he is when you meet him. I can’t and won’t tell you what the event is, but my eyes were wet with tears when I realised what is was. Partly blame for the death of his Aunt Helen and in also in some respects for his friend Micheal’s suicide as he: “didn’t leave a note,” are also important and to blame for his problem. But the childhood event I’m thinking about has more of a standing in understanding some of Charlie’s problems. I can’t praise Chbosky enough for how he handles this event. He never mentions it before we find out the event but there are pointers and a nudging in the back of you mind as to what happened, but I never thought I could have been right. After all, that kind of thing doesn’t happen to you or to people you know, or at least that’s what everyone thinks.
All in all this book was fantastic, although it still pains me to say that about a letter novel. I would recommend it, and although it is a young adults book I probably suggest anyone under the age of 15 reads it. Sometimes I think the world is exposed to too much too soon and this book I think emphasises that.
On another note, I watched the film the same day I read the book and I mean what! Yes it stuck to the plot which is probably a good thing seeing as Chbosky wrote the screenplay for the film, but what an earth was Emma Watson and her awful American accent doing in the film. I think the world of Watson but I can safely say I couldn’t stand the weird AmeriBritish accent that was going on. Sorry!