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Literature / The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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"And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."
The book's most famous quote.
"We accept the love we think we deserve."

The first (and so far only) novel by Stephen Chbosky. It was first published in 1999.

The narrator, 16-year-old Charlie, is just starting high school as a freshman, having been held back a couple of years due to emotional trauma in his past, and subsequent hospitalization. The novel primarily concerns Charlie's adventures in the '91-'92 school year, and is written as an Epistolary Novel, a collection of letters Charlie is writing to a friend-of-a-friend who he was told would be a good listener. Charlie, who doesn't excel at much except reading, seems to be off to a bad start before two seniors, step-siblings Patrick and Sam, take him under their wing. And so begins Charlie's adventures into school, literature, dating, Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll, teen pregnancy, suicide, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.


The book was well-received and essentially the literary version of a Killer App for its publisher, the newly-launched MTV Books. It has drawn comparisons to The Catcher in the Rye, primarily for being a pull-no-punches look at high school and for having a First-Person Narrator. It also placed 6th on 2008's List Of Most Frequently Banned Books, for similar reasons.

The Film of the Book was released in September 2012, written and directed by Chbosky himself. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller play Charlie, Sam, and Patrick respectively. Also, Mae Whitman plays Mary Elizabeth and Nina Dobrev plays Candace, which is cool too.


Provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in 1999, takes place over the '91-92 school year.
  • Abusive Parents: Brad's dad is a mean sonofabitch.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie keeps the most important moments from the book but cuts or skims over events and scenes to keep it shorter like Charlie's smoking, his relationship with Mr. Anderson and cuts out the pregnancy and abortion subplot with his sister (however this plotline was later released as a deleted scene on the DVD/Bluray release).
  • Adorkable: Aww, Charlie!
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: In the book, Charlie's sister and brother have No Name Given, with Charlie itself implied to be an alias. In the film their names are Candace and Chris.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Charlie is just said to be "emotionally disturbed". It is revealed that he was sexually abused by his favorite aunt, and feels guilt for her death in a car accident as she was bringing him back his birthday present.
  • Anachronism Stew: The movie really does a good job at keeping in its timeframe, however folks who actually did their senior year of high school from 1991-92 immediately notice Cracker's "Low" came out two years later, and a sign on the Fort Pitt Bridge (coming out of the tunnel) for Pittsburgh's Consol Center, which was built in 2008.
  • Arc Words: "I felt infinite" and variations thereof.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Brad has severe issues coming to therms with his sexuality, though it is most out of fear for his physically abusive and homophobic father. His relationship with Patrick is very unsteady as a result.
  • Bait the Dog: Charlie's aunt Helen is initially thought of as a troubled but loving character. It's then revealed that she sexually abused him for years.
  • Berserk Button: For Charlie, it's when someone he cares about is physically harmed.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Charlie awakens repressed memories of his aunt molesting him, destroying his image of her forever. But his parents finally know about it, he's getting counselling to deal with it and has strong support from Patrick and Sam.
  • Brutal Honesty: Charlie picks the worst possible time to invoke this when asked in a Truth or Dare game to "kiss the prettiest girl." He kisses Sam.
  • Bungled Suicide:
    • Implied that this happened to Charlie near the end.
    • Implied that Charlie's aunt similarly attempted suicide
  • Camp Gay: Patrick, mostly when contrasted with Brad.
  • Cassandra Truth: Charlie saying that his relationship is horrible.
  • Casting Gag: Mae Whitman plays a character named Mary Elizabeth. Especially noticeable as Brad is played by Young Neil's actor from the same film.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Alice's favourite film is Night of the Living Dead (1968). Tom Savini, who plays the shop teacher, directed the 1990 remake.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Charlie's family is. Charlie comes to school with a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday, and mention is made of Easter Mass.
  • Cool Aunt: Aunt Helen, according to Charlie. Subverted once the truth about her is uncovered.
  • Cool Teacher: Charlie's English teacher Bill.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Three of the football team members are viciously beating up Patrick in the cafeteria. Then Charlie steps in. The screen goes black for a second, then cuts to all of the football players on the ground, wincing in pain. Charlie's only injury is some bruised knuckles.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Charlie learns about what masturbation is at one point.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: The movie does this with Sam and Charlie near the end. However, those familiar with the book know the answer: they don't. Followed by a Maybe Ever After.
  • The Ditz: Bob, in the film.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted by the PTSD Charlie suffers after being sexually abused.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Almost every character has been through some sort of trauma; in particular, most of the female cast are survivors of some sort of abuse by a man.
  • Epistolary Novel: Charlie is writing these letters to someone. Evidently he just started sending them without any prior correspondence.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Charlie begins the movie with his hair flat. As the movie goes on he wears it pushed back to reflect his character growth.
  • Fanservice: In the film, Emma Watson, Mae Whitman, and Ezra Miller in Rocky Horror lingerie.
  • First Girl Wins
  • First Kiss: Sam to Charlie. She specifies that even though she has a boyfriend and sees Charlie strictly as a friend, she want his first kiss to be with someone who loves and cares about him. (see Rape As Back Story).
  • Five-Finger Discount: Alice is well known for stealing jeans from the shops repeatedly. Though the jeans she gave to Mary Elizabeth for Secret Santa were actually paid for.
  • Flames of Love: Charlie and Mary get close in front of a fireplace. But then the parents interrupt their date.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Patrick's report card actually says "Patrick Nothing". Also if you look at Charlie's birthday cake, there are sixteen candles on it—which indicates that he's sixteen years old. And you can read the name "Samantha Dutton" on Sam's SAT results, telling us what her full name is.
  • Friendless Background: Charlie.
  • Funny Background Event: Film only. After Shop class on the first day, when Charlie's on his way out, you can see Patrick in the guidance counsellor's office, presumably because of his actions in said Shop class.
  • Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: Patrick falls in love with Brad, the star athlete.
  • Gayngst: Seemingly subverts this for most of the story, with Patrick being portrayed most light-heartedly of all the characters. However it strays into this area by the end of his subplot with Brad.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted by Charlie's sister.
  • Granola Girl:
    • Mary Elizabeth is a classic example, being a punk artist vegan activist Buddhist.
    • One might argue that Sam has these tendencies as well.
    • Bill's girlfriend is also this as well.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Alice is a lesbian in the book but her sexuality isn't mentioned in the film.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Charlie goes to a house party, and eats a cannabis brownie without knowing what's in it. Soon after, the otherwise quiet and reserved character is sitting in a lotus position babbling all sorts of stuff, some of it silly, some of it quite insightful. As a result of this, he gains a bunch of new friends.
  • High-School Dance
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Charlie wishes for everyone around him to be happy, but as a result disrgards his own happiness. Sam calls him out on this before she leaves for college, telling him he can't make everyone around him happy and he must care for himself too.
  • Jerk Jock: Brad has shades of this, and evolves into a full-fledged one when his dad catches him and Patrick and beats the crap out of him.
  • Keet: Patrick. Ezra Miller especially has fun with this during a few scenes in the film.
  • Maybe Ever After: Sam and Charlie in the book. The movie, directed and written by Chbosky, has them hook up.
  • Mood Whiplash: All over the place. A comedy scene of Truth or Dare turns sour when Charlie is asked to kiss "the most beautiful girl in the room", he kisses Sam rather than his girlfriend Mary Elizabeth. This temporarily alienates him from everyone. Later towards the end what looks like a tender love scene between Sam and Charlie is interrupted by his memories of Aunt Helen sexually abusing him.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Charlie wants to be one, and the book (and the narration of the movie) is made up of his letters to an undefined person who apparently is a good person to talk to
  • The Movie Buff: Alice, Sam and Patrick's other friend who Charlie never really talked to (which meant he never knew this about her until he found out she was going to study film in her university). Her favourite film happens to be Night of the Living Dead (1968) and she calls movies "films". As George A. Romero was a Pittsburgh native and the story is set there, her appreciation of it makes sense.
  • Named by the Adaptation: It's made clear in the movie that Charlie is his given name, and he gains the surname Kelmeckis. The sister is named Candace and the brother Chris for the film too.
  • The Needs of the Many: Charlie always puts others before himself. This earns him a What the Hell, Hero? speech from Sam toward the end, as she finds it patronizing and dishonest rather than endearing.
  • No Name Given: Charlie's sister never has a name mentioned out loud, nor do his parents or brother. And for that matter, there's hints that "Charlie" is a pen name adopted for reasons of anonymity.
    • In his first letter Charlie states that he will be using false names for everyone to keep himself from being identified, so it's likely that none of the characters' real names are given.
  • N-Word Privileges: In the movie, at least. During the game of Truth or Dare, Patrick jokingly calls himself a "fag", but when Brad calls Patrick a faggot in the cafeteria he starts a huge fight.
  • No Social Skills: Charlie, although this is justified.
  • Oh, Crap!: Candace gets one when Charlie delivers the below-mentioned Wham Line. Bonus points since she is seen from behind with her face out of view, and the reaction is portrayed entirely through body language.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Charlie's English teacher, Bill, shares a name with the limo driver for prom (Billy). There's also a Bob and Sam's first kiss was with someone named Robert.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: While Emma Watson is convincing as the American Sam for the most part, occasionally her natural British accent comes through.
  • Perky Goth: Alice counts as such with her clothes and liking for zombies.
  • Pet Homosexual: Patrick, though he has the justification of being Sam's brother.
  • Posthumous Character: Charlie's best friend and favorite aunt
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Mary Elizabeth gets one in when she realizes her dad's about to walk in on her first tryst with Charlie.
    • Happens in the movie from Patrick after Charlie kisses Sam during the truth or dare game.
  • Pretty Boy: Patrick in the movie, as played by the very pretty Ezra Miller.
  • Rape as Backstory: Sam was molested as a young girl by a friend of her father. Also, Charlie's aunt was molested as a young girl, which led to her having serious psychological issues, which is why she herself molested Charlie.
  • Relative Error: When Charlie first meets Patrick and Sam, he mistakenly thinks they're dating.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Just who is Charlie writing to, anyway? Or is he indeed writing to any one person?
  • Romantic False Lead: Mary Elizabeth is this for Charlie, though she has a bigger role in the story and is more sympathetic than Romantic False Leads tend to be. Craig, however, is a typical example of the trope, as the character is used purely as a plot device.
  • Shout-Out: Besides the lists of books Mr. Anderson gives Charlie to read, there are also several literature/film references scattered throughout the book. Not to mention all of the songs discussed. The film keeps the majority of these references.
  • Shrinking Violet: Well duh.
  • Starts with a Suicide: One of the first things we learn in the book is that Charlie's best friend shot himself the summer between middle and high school.
  • Stealth Pun: In the movie, the Tunnel Song is David Bowie's "'Heroes'," a song covered by—wait for it—The Wallflowers.
  • Stepford Smiler: Patrick's extremely cheery and fun personality hides some pretty deep emotional scars.
  • Straight Gay: Brad, or at least bi.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Have you read this book/seen the movie? That said, Stephen Chbosky states in his movie commentary that there are meant to be no villains in the story—the idea being that all teenagers are suffering hardships, but some can't healthily express it.
  • Their First Time: Both versions are played straight: an unanticipated tryst is interrupted by something.
  • They Do: Charlie and Sam. At least, the movie suggests so. YMMV for the book.
  • Troubled Abuser: Aunt Helen was molested as a young girl, which is why she herself molested Charlie.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: The Shop teacher, in the film at least. He only appears twice, yet his first appearance is to sit at the receiving end of Patrick's (unprovoked) mischief, which for some reason presents Patrick as sympathetic instead of him when he tries to discipline him. In his second appearance, he acts like more of a Jerkass towards his students and their work.
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: When learning how to punctuate, Charlie scatters punctuation all over that day's letter. The next day he apologizes. (...It was funny at the time.) Possibly a Shout-Out to a similar chapter in another Epistolary Novel narrated by someone named Charlie.
  • Wham Line: For Candace when Charlie asks her "I killed Aunt Helen, didn't I?"
  • Would Hit a Girl: In the movie, the jocks that are beating up Patrick respond to Sam's attempt to stop them by shoving her to the ground.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Craig had been cheating on Sam their entire relationship.

Alternative Title(s): The Perks Of Being A Wallflower


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