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.
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 want anyone to know it. At a football game, Charlie sees Nothing and knows he is friendly enough to talk to even though Charlie is much younger and not very popular. Nothing introduces himself as Patrick, and then he introduces Charlie to Sam, a very pretty girl. They invite him to watch the game with him and then take him to the Big Boy to hang out. Charlie decides he should start calling Nothing by his real name, and he is smitten with Sam. He thinks about asking her on a date sometime in the future, especially when he finds out she is Patrick’s sister, not his girlfriend. He has a sexual dream about her and wakes up ashamed. He decides that he would just like a friend even more than he would like a girlfriend.
After school one day, Charlie and Bill are talking about dating and girls, and Charlie tells Bill about the hitting incident between his sister and her boyfriend, figuring it would be all right to tell him because he does not know them. Bill’s response is, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” It is cool autumn day, so Charlie walks home; when he arrives his parents are standing in front of his sobbing sister. Bill had called his parents, and they are now forbidding her to be with a boy who hits her. She is screaming that she loves him. When their parents leave, she tells Charlie she hates him. Charlie assures Friend that his father has not ever hit his children—except for once, and he apologized later, saying his stepfather hit his children and he had determined never to hit his own children. Charlie forgave him, of course. Charlie’s father talks to the boyfriend’s family and the relationship is apparently finished. Although Charlie’s father tells him he did the right thing, his sister is still mad at him.
The next book Bill gives Charlie is Peter Pan, and Charlie enjoys it. He has been trying to be more than just an observer of life; he is trying to be a participant, as Bill suggested. After the Homecoming game, Charlie attends a party with Sam and Patrick. He is the youngest person there, and he turns down the beer he is offered. (He tried one when he was twelve and did not like the taste.) When Sam and Patrick are elsewhere, Bob (the host of the party) offers Charlie a brownie, which he eagerly accepts. They are “special” brownies, and soon Charlie is high. Sam is furious that her friend gave Charlie a brownie and takes him to the kitchen to fix him a milkshake. After using the bathroom, a stoned Charlie hears noises in a small closet. When he opens the door he discovers Patrick and Brad, quarterback of the football team, kissing. Brad is mortified, but Patrick assures him that Charlie will keep their secret if asked. He explains that Charlie is a wallflower. Later Patrick tells Charlie, “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” It is Charlie’s first real party, and it is an experience he will never forget.
Although he is trying not to think of her “that way,” Charlie is in love with Sam. It is a pure and respectful love, and he is dismayed that she is dating an older boy (Craig) who does not respect her. Charlie talks with his sister about it, and she explains that Sam has low self-esteem. She goes on to talk about her boyfriend and their secret meetings and their plans to marry one day. Even though his sister tells him her boyfriend no longer hits her, Charlie is worried for her.
Thanksgiving is drawing near, but the plan for Charlie’s brother to come home for the holidays has changed. He is too far behind in his schoolwork because of football. His mother is distraught. They spend Thanksgiving with his mother’s family and it goes better than most years, where there is yelling and crying and plenty of alcohol and distress.
As the Christmas season approaches, Charlie participates in the Secret Santa activity Sam conducts every year. He wanted to draw Sam’s name, but he drew Patrick’s instead. His first gift for him is a mix tape with songs he hopes will ensure that Patrick always feels “like he belongs to something whenever he’s sad.” The first Secret Santa gift he received was disappointing—a pair of socks. His next gifts were a tie, a belt, a pair of pants, and some shoes, some of them from the thrift store. A typed note told him to wear them to the party at Sam and Patrick’s house, where all Secret Santas are revealed. Charlie is again the youngest one there. Final gifts are exchanged, and Patrick enters the room with a suit coat to complete Charlie’s outfit, saying that all great authors wear suits. Charlie’s final gift to Patrick is a poem, which he reads out loud. Everyone is moved by the pathos of the piece. It is a suicide note, but Charlie simply thinks it is beautiful and expressive. He gives Sam an old record that his Aunt Helen gave him, and she is moved and tells him she loves him. Charlie understands it is a friend kind of love. Sam gives Charlie a used typewriter and tells him to write about her. He promises to do so, and she says she wants his first kiss to be from someone who loves him. She kisses him, and Charlie is moved. Bill has given Charlie books to read outside of class, including The Great Gatsby and A Separate Peace. The one he is reading over Christmas is Catcher in the Rye.
Sam and Patrick are at the Grand Canyon for Christmas, and Charlie is lonely. He starts to feel depressed, like he used to, but he thinks about things like Sam’s kiss and the sad feelings go away. This time of year always makes Charlie sad. His birthday is on December 24, and he hopes Sam and Patrick will call. They do not, but his brother comes home from college and they share a pleasant birthday meal. Christmas is spent with his dad’s family in Ohio. They are much like the other side of the family; there is a history of abuse and things are still not quite right.
He then tells the story of his Aunt Helen’s death. She was molested by a family friend and became an addict in abusive relationships who finally came to live with them to get her life under some control. On his seventh birthday she left to buy him a gift and was in a fatal car accident. Charlie was devastated and felt guilty and had to see doctors for a long time after the event. That is why his birthday and...
(The entire section is 3778 words.)