I admit that I ignored this book when it came up in my Amazon.com recommendations for a long time. I thought it didn’t seem like the type of book I would “get.” But then I saw that a movie version was coming out, and had Emma Watson in it, and since I’ve loved Emma Watson since her Hermione Granger days, I decided to give the book a chance.
I’m so glad I did.
As much as this is a “coming-of-age” novel, it’s definitely applicable to those of us who are already technically “of age” but still have a lot of learning to do. In the book, the main character, Charlie, writes to an unknown reader about his life. He explains what he sees, what he does, what he learns, and who he is becoming as a result. As a “wallflower,” Charlie spends a lot of time observing others and trying to make sense of his surroundings. As a bit of an outcast, he is delighted to become accepted by some older schoolmates during his freshman year of high school. These people, too, are the outcasts, and have a very unique and beautiful way of living their lives as they (not others) see fit.
As people who really don’t care what others think, these individuals are free to do what makes them happy. This is, of course, quite unusual, considering high school is often a very chameleon-like experience, trying to fit in in whatever surroundings you might find yourself. But not these folks. And that takes Charlie by surprise.
Charlie is struggling with depression following the suicide of his friend, and as he becomes more involved with this group of people, he learns how to live.
He learns to take chances. He learns that the best moments are often ones that require risk of embarrassment. He learns about love, and about true friendship. He struggles accepting the friendship his friends are offering to him, unsure of why they find him worthy of their time and effort. He discovers a truth about friendship, and about love:
And he decides to try to open himself up to accepting more for himself. He begins to share who he is – his dreams and goals of being a writer, and his love for Sam (played by Emma Watson). One evening while driving down the road with his friends, they go through through the Fort Pitt tunnel, and Sam gets into the bed of the truck, stands up with her arms out, and imagines she is flying while they blast the song “Heroes” by David Bowie. The mood is electric, and Charlie thinks “at that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
It is this love for Sam that leads him to discover something painful about his past, and telling about his future. During a moment of potential passion between Sam and Charlie, Charlie realizes that he “can’t do it” and shuts down. Throughout the book Charlie has been trying to process his feelings about his aunt and her death via car accident, and has remembered how much of an impact she had on him while he was growing up. It is during this moment with Sam that Charlie understands what happened between him and his aunt, and this rocks him to the core. He has a breakdown and ends up in the hospital.
With the help of his family and friends, Charlie learns to heal from the abuse in his past. Sam (and her brother Patrick, who plays a big part but I have yet to mention…oops), come to visit Charlie and inspire him to embrace life in the now. He realizes he can’t change what has happened, but he can impact what happens now and in the future.
The story is one of learning to come out of one’s shell, of learning to become oneself despite what others may think/say/do, and of learning to be okay with whoever it is you are. It’s one of living life and choosing to look at painful or difficult situations as challenges and opportunities. It’s about learning that only in taking a risk can we have the types of experiences that will make memories and experiences that make an impact on our lives. When we find people who encourage who we are becoming, we find the strength within ourselves to grow, learn, develop, and blossom into the person those who love us know we can be.