The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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What happens in The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

Charlie is a freshman in high school. His best friend Michael recently killed himself, and Charlie is understandably upset. The first friend he makes in high school is his English teacher Bill, who gives Charlie books to read outside of class.

  • At a school football game, Patrick and his sister Sam, both seniors, invite Charlie to sit with them. At a party after the Homecoming game, Charlie unwittingly eats a pot brownie. High, he opens a closet to find Patrick making out with Brad, the quarterback of the football team.
  • Charlie draws Patrick's name for Secret Santa. Patrick gives him a suit fit for a famous writer. At her Christmas party, Sam kisses Charlie even though she's dating an older boy named Craig. Charlie starts dating a very talkative girl named Mary Elizabeth, but they break up after Charlie kisses Sam on a dare. Sam and Patrick ostracize Charlie.
  • Brad and Patrick break up after Brad's dad finds them together. Brad, who's in the closet, picks a fight at lunch one day, and Charlie steps in to save Patrick. Sam breaks up with Craig and has a sexual encounter with Charlie. Only then does Charlie remember that his beloved Aunt Helen sexually abused him as a child. Charlie has a breakdown after Patrick and Sam leave for college, but at the end of the novel he insists he's getting better. 

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story told through a series of letters; the first one is dated August 25, 1991, and the last is dated August 23, 1992. Each letter is addressed the same—“Dear Friend.” Charlie is hoping this Friend, someone older but whom he has never met, will be a person he can trust although he only knows about him from a conversation he overheard. This Friend had the chance to take advantage of someone at a party but does not; this makes him a good person in Charlie’s eyes. It is a one-sided, sporadic correspondence covering Charlie’s first year of high school. In these letters, he shares his failures, successes, disappointments, questions, observations, and conclusions.

Part 1

His friend Michael just committed suicide, and Charlie is upset, more upset than most of the other students in school are. Charlie is fifteen and the youngest of three children. He has an older brother who is going to play football at Penn State and an older sister who is “mean to boys.” His parents are each hardworking—one at home, one at work—and he adores his mother’s sister, who has died. Aunt Helen lived with them for a few years because something terrible happened to her. Tomorrow is Charlie’s first day of high school and he is afraid.

High school is not fun for Charlie. One boy tries to pick on him, and Charlie defends himself with moves his brother taught him, but these moves actually hurt the other boy. Charlie is emotional and bursts into tears because he was only trying to defend himself and did not mean to hurt anyone.

Charlie is in an advanced English class and loves reading; his teacher (who asks Charlie to call him Bill outside of class) is even giving him extra work to do because he is doing so well. The first book he gives him is To Kill a Mockingbird.

His sister’s latest boyfriend is rather weak; he makes her themed mix tapes and cries quite easily, until one night she goads him past his breaking point and he hits her in the face. She does not react, but from that night they are “going together.” Charlie stays silent both about the hit and about seeing them naked on the couch downstairs.

After advanced English, Charlie’s favorite class in school is shop class, partly because one of his classmates is named Nothing. One day the class was teasing Patrick by calling him “Patty” and he shouted at them to call him by his real name or call him nothing. They chose Nothing. Charlie remembers visiting his Aunt Helen’s grave and watching the final episode of M*A*S*H with his family. He believes he has a good family, including a dad who is able to cry but does not...

(The entire section is 3,778 words.)