The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Book Poster Image
Controversial coming-of-age classic with sex, drugs, abuse.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 87 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teens may want to read some of the books Charlie reads during his 10th grade year, including The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace. Why have these coming-of-age books become classics? Why did the author choose to include these books?

Positive Messages

Charlie comes of age in this book and learns to not only reach out to others, but also to be present in his own life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charlie may drink and smoke, but he is honest about his feelings, even when he feels ashamed of them. He has a strong friendship with both Sam and Patrick, and is there for them when they fall apart. Sam, in particular, helps him, encouraging Charlie to live his life for himself. He also has a supportive teacher.

Violence

Charlie's sister is hit by her boyfriend but continues to secretly date him. Some fistfights. Charlie ultimately remembers being sexually molested as a small child.  He also remembers his dad hitting him and recounts a history of physical abuse in his greater family. Charlie's friend kills himself and his aunt dies in car crash.

Sex

Charlie overhears his crush having sex with her boyfriend, walks in on his sister naked with her boyfriend, and learns a friend is having a secret homosexual romance with a popular boy. He goes with his sister to have an abortion and also with his gay friend to pick up on guys for anonymous sex.  He lets that same friend kiss him. Some other making out and descriptions of people having sex. Toward the end, in a pretty descriptive scene, Charlie stops a girl from touching him when he remembers being abused.

Language

Mature language, including the f-word and a hate word for gay people.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Kids, including the narrator, smoke and drink. A character also uses Mini Thins to stay awake. Charlie also smokes marijuana and uses LSD.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this coming-of-age classic features a lot of mature material including an abortion, repressed memories of sexual abuse, and men having sex with one another (sometimes anonymously). Characters, including the teen narrator, drink, smoke, and use drugs. Even so, it has become a classic of sorts because of its tender coming-of-age story that's easy to compare to The Catcher in the Rye. Parents who are concerned about the mature material may want to consider reading it along with their kids.

User Reviews

Adult Written byilovegodsomuch July 29, 2011

Good Read

This book identifies with teenagers because it is relevant to what kids face today! It does not compromise reader's judgment. It instead instills a sense o... Continue reading
Adult Written byolivialong27 July 30, 2011

AMAZING!!!

This is one of the best books I've ever read. It taught me a lot of important things about life and has a lot of beautiful quotes, my favorite is "We... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old January 4, 2013

Best book I've ever read

I was 12 when I read this, and I got a lot of dirty looks from teachers when carrying it around. I'm still 12, and I still don't care. This is the bes... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byJarz1000 February 5, 2014

They Need to Grow Up Someday...

Disclaimer: I understand that every parent is different. Based on how I was raised, this is my opinion on the book. Chbosky's "controversial" st... Continue reading

What's the story?

After his friend commits suicide, smart misfit Charlie is trying to learn to \"participate\" in life. He befriends a group of interesting older kids who introduce him to partying, but also respect his sensitivity. In letters that Charlie writes to an anonymous stranger, he talks about his family, his friends, and his complicated, often overwhelming, feelings about growing up. Eventually, his longtime crush tells him that he \"can't just sit there and put everybody's life ahead of yours and think that counts as love\" and he slowly learns to be present in his life.

Is it any good?

Teens who love The Catcher in the Rye will find this to be an excellent sequel of sorts. Charlie shares Holden's overwhelming sensitivity -- and struggles with psychological issues -- and readers will find themselves quickly feeling sorry for the protagonist and worrying about him throughout his transformative journey. There's lots of mature content here, from sexual material to Charlie's repressed memories of being abused; parents may want to read along with their teens so they can help them with any questions. Alternately, Simon & Schuster has a reading guide that can help them think through some of the plot points and deeper issues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about controversial books. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was the 10th most challenged book on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most banned or challenged books of 2000-2009. What makes it so controversial? Who should be able to make the decision about what you read or what's in your school or public library?

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  • Teens and parents may want to compare and contrast this book with some of the other coming-of-age classics Charlie reads during his 10th grade year, including The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace. Why did the author choose to include these books?

Book details

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