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Literature / The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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"We accept the love we think we deserve."

The first (and, for almost twenty years, the only) work by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a young adult coming-of-age epistolary novel 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 past emotional trauma and subsequent hospitalization. The novel primarily concerns Charlie's adventures in the '91-'92 school year, and is written as 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 no-punches-pulled look at high school and for having a first-person narrator. It also placed 6th on 2008's list of the 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.

Provides examples of:

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     Tropes that apply both to the book and the film 
  • Abusive Parents: Brad's father is violently homophobic.
  • Alcohol-Induced Bisexuality: Invoked. Armored Closet Gay jock Brad keeps getting shitfaced as a cover for his relationship with Camp Gay Patrick, so that if he gets caught by one of his homophobic teammates, he can claim that Patrick took advantage of him. Eventually, Patrick gets tired of this and forces Brad to get sober, which puts a strain on their relationship.
  • Arc Words: "I felt infinite" and variations thereof.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Brad has severe issues coming to terms 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 presented 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.
  • Broken Pedestal: Aunt Helen becomes this to Charlie when he remembers her molestation of him.
  • 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 instead of the girl he's actually going out with.
  • Bungled Suicide:
    • It's implied that this happened to Charlie near the end.
    • It's also implied that Charlie's aunt similarly attempted suicide.
  • Camp Gay: Patrick, mostly when contrasted with Brad.
  • 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.
  • Coax Them Out of the Closet: Patrick is pretty openly gay, but his boyfriend Brad, a star football player with a violently homophobic father, is hesitant to be out or reveal their relationship to all but a few friends, which is a major source of tension in their relationship. In the movie, this comes to a head when Brad, still keeping the relationship and his sexuality a secret, calls Patrick a faggot in front of everyone, triggering a huge fight.
  • 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. Cut to all of the football players on the ground, wincing in pain. Charlie's only injury is some bruised knuckles.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • First Girl Wins: Sam is the first girl Charlie ever falls in love with. Although it's left realistically ambiguous whether or not their Maybe Ever After will ever lead to a more mature, lasting relationship, the readers get to see him be solely in love with her as far as the novel spans.
  • 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. The jeans she gave to Mary Elizabeth for Secret Santa were actually paid for, a fact that all her friends celebrate.
  • Flames of Love: Charlie and Mary get close in front of a fireplace. But then, her parents interrupt their date.
  • Foreshadowing: Around the time Sam reveals she'd been sexually assaulted by her Dad's boss, Charlie tells her he thinks they share a lot in common. It turns out Charlie was also sexually abused by an adult, his Aunt Helen.
  • Freshman Fears: Charlie is a high school freshman who is shy and withdrawn at first, but comes out of his shell after being taken under the wing of a group of seniors.
  • Friendless Background: Charlie.
  • Gay Cruising: Patrick, after he and Brad break up, begins frequenting the park at night, where he has sex with much older men, which causes his friends some concern.
  • Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: Patrick falls in love with Brad, the star athlete.
  • Gayngst: It's seemingly subverted 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.
  • 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 this as well.
  • 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.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Charlie wishes for everyone around him to be happy, but as a result disregards 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • No Social Skills: Charlie, although this is justified.
  • 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.
  • Perky Goth: Alice counts as such with her clothes and liking for zombies.
  • 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.
  • 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: Charlie, although he's also genuinely mentally ill and traumatized rather than simply shy.
  • Starts with a Suicide: One of the first things we learn is that Charlie's best friend shot himself the summer between middle and high school.
  • Stepford Smiler: Patrick's extremely cheery and fun personality hides some pretty deep emotional scars.
  • Straight Gay: Brad, or perhaps bi.
  • Their First Time: Both versions are played straight: an unanticipated tryst is interrupted by something.
  • Troubled Abuser: Aunt Helen was molested as a young girl, which is why she herself molested Charlie.

     Tropes that apply to the book 

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in 1999, takes place over the '91-92 school year.
  • Abortion Fallout Drama: Charlie's older sister gets pregnant as a teen, and has to hide this from her parents and sneaks around to get an abortion. She relies on her brother to help her get the procedure, but this is a source of strength for their relationship rather than conflict. This subplot was excised from the film.
  • Epistolary Novel: Charlie is writing these letters to someone. Evidently he just started sending them without any prior correspondence.
  • 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.
  • 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: "And she was doing what Sam was doing." The "she" being Aunt Helen. And what's being done… ick.
    • A slightly less plot-relevant example: "Basically, Brad's father caught Brad and Patrick together."

     Tropes that apply to the film 

  • 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).
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Charlie's brother. In the book, he is an all-too-common type of young white male (particularly in '90s USA) who casually uses misogynistic and homophobic language. In the movie, he is nothing but super nice, and even gets a lovely scene with his little brother.
  • 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.
  • Anachronism Stew: Folks who actually did their senior year of high school from 1991-92 immediately notice Cracker's "Low" was released 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.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Alice's favorite film is Night of the Living Dead (1968). Tom Savini, who plays the shop teacher, directed the 1990 remake.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Bob. It's strongly implied drugs are, if not the reason, a huge factor in his weirdness. But remember, he's just sensitive.
  • 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.
  • Family Theme Naming: The Kelmeckis siblings names all start with the letter 'c'.
  • Fanservice: The main cast, even Charlie, get scenes wearing Rocky Horror lingerie.
  • Faux Yay: Patrick frequently engages in a sexuality-switched one, where instead of straight people jokingly doing "gay" things, he's a gay character who constantly shows unserious flashes of faux-attraction to the opposite sex. He even makes out with Alice at one point, but not before referring to himself as gay explicitly (through a slur, but it still applies).
  • 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.
  • Funny Background Event: After shop class on the first day, when Charlie's on his way out, Patrick is shown in the guidance counselor's office, presumably because of his actions in said shop class.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Alice is implied to be a lesbian in the book, but her sexuality isn't mentioned in the film.
  • High-School Dance: We're treated to scenes of the significant characters attending a few. Patrick and Sam perform their memorable "living room routine" dance number in the first.
  • Keet: Patrick. Ezra Miller especially has fun with this during a few scenes in the film.
  • Named by the Adaptation: It's made clear in the movie that Charlie is the main character's given name, and he gains the surname Kelmeckis. The sister is named Candace and the brother Chris for the film too.
  • N-Word Privileges: 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.
  • 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.
  • Precision F-Strike: There's one 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.
  • Stealth Pun: The movie's chosen Tunnel Song is David Bowie's "'Heroes'," a song covered by – wait for it – The Wallflowers.
  • Stopped Dead in Their Tracks: Candace does this when Charlie calls her and says "I killed Aunt Helen, didn't I?. Bonus points since she is seen from behind with her face out of view, and the reaction is portrayed entirely through body language, until she turns around to immediately signal her friend and tell her, "Call the police and send them to my house."
  • Villainy-Free Villain: The Shop teacher, initially. He only appears twice, and his first appearance is to sit at the receiving end of Patrick's mischief. In his second appearance, he acts like more of a Jerkass towards his students and their work.
  • Would Hit a Girl: During Patrick and Brad's fistfight, his jock friends who swoop in to help the losing Brad beat up Patrick respond to Sam's attempt to stop them by shoving her to the ground.
  • Wham Shot: Charlie has a dream where someone was rubbing their hand on his pants, similarly to what Sam was doing earlier. He looks up… and sees his Aunt Helen, telling him not to wake up his sister. It turns out not to be a dream, but a memory.

"And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."

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