For those of you who regularly follow me (bless your loyal souls), you’ll know that a few months ago I wrote a review on the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Shame on me, at the time I’d seen the film…without having read the book.
It’s true. I’m going to book hell (where I’ll be forced to read 50 shades of Grey, over and over, until my brain turns to mush and I start believing that E. L. James truly is a fantastic, witty writer).
Ever since I saw the film, I was intrigued by the storyline and in particular, the central character and protagonist, Charlie. So last week, I finally purchased the novel and sat down and read it. And wasn’t I surprised to find out…the film is ever-so-slightly better.
I know. I am as shocked by this revelation as you probably are. Partially because, being a bit of a book nerd, I love everything paper and look down on people who prefer to watch films (although, quite obviously, I enjoy both). But mostly because…well, film adaptations usually fall short of their novel counterpart, whether it’s through terrible casting, horrendous screenplay or just downright awful, awful direction (Twilight applies to all of the above).
So how was the novel different? Let’s investigate, shall we? (You don’t have to do of course, I just thought we could add a little mystery to the post).
The plot is very similar in both the novel and the film. Charlie is a teenage boy who feels alone and unsure of himself in the world, and he feels that he doesn’t fit in with others at his high school. He isn’t sad necessarily, but he often fails to participate in what is going on around him in the world. When he makes new friends Patrick and Sam, this starts to change, along with the influence of his English teacher, Bill (don’t you love when writers get all snobby and include references to some truly amazing books in their own novels? It’s like they’re saying ‘I may be an amazing writer, I have made my career, but damn, F. Scott Fitzgerald, you still take the cake’).
The main difference in the novel is that the story is told entirely through letters to ‘a friend’ who is never divulged. Since they’re all one-sided letters, the book reads like a series of diary entries.
While this worked in the novel, and it allows the reader to feel personally connected with Charlie, I felt that the crux of the story was presented somewhat underwhelming in this format. In the final pages of the novel (read: spoiler alert) we, alongside Charlie, learn that he was molested as a child by his late Aunt Helen. Yet, in a series of letters the news seems less shocking and more measured, as opposed to the film, where the disjointed images provide an entire story in mere seconds, as well as an abundance of emotions.
On the other hand, since it was set in a letter format, we notice how author, Stephen Chbosky, develops Charlie’s writing style and inner voice, a trait that can really only be shown clearly in novel format. As the story unfolds, not only is Charlie growing up and gaining new skills as a writer, but he is also gaining confidence in what type of person he is, and what he wants out of life.
Of course, the stand out in both the novel and the film of The Perks of Being a Wallflower are the utterly loveable characters. Although Charlie is flawed, often cries, has an awful past and over thinks everything, we’re still on his side. We still want him to get the girl (Sam). We want him to stand up to Mary Elizabeth when she doesn’t let him stick up for himself. And most importantly, we believe in him as a character. There are many ‘teen-angst’ novels yet few accurately portray how everyone, at one point or another, feels through high school. Alienation. Wanting. Utter confusion. Teenagers aren’t perfect, in fact they’re far from it. They often don’t know what they want, but more than that, they do know what they DON’T want, and this is what really comes across in this novel.
Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a sad, moving and yet, sometimes hilarious and highly accurate, novel that showcases teenage life. I would suggest it to anyone, whether they are teenagers who can relate, or parents who have forgotten what it’s like to be young and confused.
Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Have you seen the film? What did you think? Let me know!