"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky; MTV Books, 213 pages, $12.
In an age in which adolescents are most often portrayed in the media as hormone-driven suburbanites, a character such as Charlie in Stephen Chbosky's novel "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a refreshing rarity.
The 15-year-old reluctant high school freshman at the center of the book narrates the tale of his harrowing first year of high school through a series of letters to an unidentified paragon of virtue who, throughout the story, is referred to simply as "Dear Friend."
As the novel begins, Charlie laments the recent suicide of his best friend and reveals a myriad of deep-seated neuroses stemming from the death of his favorite aunt eight years before. Charlie's charming insecurity soon enables him to befriend a circle of non-conformist upperclassmen who accompany him on the ensuing emotional roller coaster.
Chbosky's most notable accomplishment in his first novel is his adroit depiction of the most tender and agonizing human emotions.
While the novel falls well short of earning a place in the same class as the bible of disenfranchised adolescence, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," Chbosky's astute prose and keen understanding of the high school experience make him a refreshing literary voice.
His commentary on the adolescent experience isn't blindly sympathetic, however. The author not only acknowledges but often parodies the superficial aspects of the lives of teens and conveys that much of the hardship endured by Charlie and his peers is a result of their own character flaws.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" offers an astute and largely compassionate depiction of the pressures and obligations that are ever-increasingly a part of growing up.
Tyler Johnson is a junior at Canisius High School.