The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Stephen Chbosky


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Chbosky gives us a window into the hilarity and hijinks of the hallowed halls of any given high school experience. It’s a gauntlet of love and lockers as Charlie attempts to make sense of—and hopefully make it through—the gruel of growing up.

Read the cult-favorite coming of age story that takes a sometimes heartbreaking, often hysterical, and always honest look at high school in all its glory. Now a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a funny, touching, and haunting modern classic.

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

A #1 New York Times best seller for more than a year, an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults (2000) and Best Book for Reluctant Readers (2000), and with millions of copies in print, this novel for teen readers (or “wallflowers” of more-advanced age) will make you laugh, cry, and perhaps feel nostalgic for those moments when you, too, tiptoed onto the dance floor of life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671027346
Publisher: MTV Books
Publication date: 02/01/1999
Edition description: Original
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 2,406
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed the feature film adaptation of his award-winning novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He has worked in film and television, on projects including the film version of the smash-hit musical Rent; the TV show Jericho; and others. He also edited Pieces, a collection of short stories for Pocket Books. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chbosky graduated from the University of Southern California’s Filmic Writing Program. His first film, The Four Corners of Nowhere, premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenChbosky.

Read an Excerpt

From Part One

August 25, 1991

Dear friend,

I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don't try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don't want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don't want you to find me. I didn't enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.

I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn't try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.

I think you of all people would understand that because I think you of all people are alive and appreciate what that means. At least I hope you do because other people look to you for strength and friendship and it's that simple. At least that's what I've heard.

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.

I try to think of my family as a reason for me being this way, especially after my friend Michael stopped going to school one day last spring and we heard Mr. Vaughn's voice on the loudspeaker.

"Boys and girls, I regret to inform you that one of our students has passed on. We will hold a memorial service for Michael Dobson during assembly this Friday."

I don't know how news travels around school and why it is very often right. Maybe it was in the lunchroom. It's hard to remember. But Dave with the awkward glasses told us that Michael killed himself. His mom played bridge with one of Michael's neighbors and they heard the gunshot.

I don't really remember much of what happened after that except that my older brother came to Mr. Vaughn's office in my middle school and told me to stop crying. Then, he put his arm on my shoulder and told me to get it out of my system before Dad came home. We then went to eat french fries at McDonald's and he taught me how to play pinball. He even made a joke that because of me he got to skip an afternoon of school and asked me if I wanted to help him work on his Camaro. I guess I was pretty messy because he never let me work on his Camaro before.

At the guidance counselor sessions, they asked the few of us who actually liked Michael to say a few words. I think they were afraid that some of us would try to kill ourselves or something because they looked very tense and one of them kept touching his beard.

Bridget who is crazy said that sometimes she thought about suicide when commercials come on during TV. She was sincere and this puzzled the guidance counselors. Carl who is nice to everyone said that he felt very sad, but could never kill himself because it is a sin.

This one guidance counselor went through the whole group and finally came to me.

"What do you think, Charlie?"

What was so strange about this was the fact that I had never met this man because he was a "specialist" and he knew my name even though I wasn't wearing a name tag like they do in open house.

"Well, I think that Michael was a nice guy and I don't understand why he did it. As much as I feel sad, I think that not knowing is what really bothers me."

I just reread that and it doesn't sound like how I talk. Especially in that office because I was crying still. I never did stop crying.

The counselor said that he suspected that Michael had "problems at home" and didn't feel like he had anyone to talk to. That's maybe why he felt all alone and killed himself.

Then, I started screaming at the guidance counselor that Michael could have talked to me. And I started crying even harder. He tried to calm me down by saying that he meant an adult like a teacher or a guidance counselor. But it didn't work and eventually my brother came by the middle school in his Camaro to pick me up.

For the rest of the school year, the teachers treated me different and gave me better grades even though I didn't get any smarter. To tell you the truth, I think I made them all nervous.

Michael's funeral was strange because his father didn't cry. And three months later he left Michael's mom. At least according to Dave at lunchtime. I think about it sometimes. I wonder what went on in Michael's house around dinner and TV shows. Michael never left a note or at least his parents didn't let anyone see it. Maybe it was "problems at home." I wish I knew. It might make me miss him more clearly. It might have made sad sense.

One thing I do know is that it makes me wonder if I have "problems at home" but it seems to me that a lot of other people have it a lot worse. Like when my sister's first boyfriend started going around with another girl and my sister cried for the whole weekend.

My dad said, "There are other people who have it a lot worse."

And my mom was quiet. And that was that. A month later, my sister met another boy and started playing happy records again. And my dad kept working. And my mom kept sweeping. And my brother kept fixing his Camaro. That is, until he left for college at the beginning of the summer. He's playing football for Penn State but he needed the summer to get his grades right to play football.

I don't think that there is a favorite kid in our family. There are three of us and I am the youngest. My brother is the oldest. He is a very good football player and likes his car. My sister is very pretty and mean to boys and she is in the middle. I get straight A's now like my sister and that is why they leave me alone.

My mom cries a lot during TV programs. My dad works a lot and is an honest man. My Aunt Helen used to say that my dad was going to be too proud to have a midlife crisis. It took me until around now to understand what she meant by that because he just turned forty and nothing has changed.

My Aunt Helen was my favorite person in the whole world. She was my mom's sister. She got straight A's when she was a teenager and she used to give me books to read. My father said that the books were a little too old for me, but I liked them so he just shrugged and let me read.

My Aunt Helen lived with the family for the last few years of her life because something very bad happened to her. Nobody would tell me what happened then even though I always wanted to know. When I was around seven, I stopped asking about it because I kept asking like kids always do and my Aunt Helen started crying very hard.

That's when my dad slapped me, saying, "You're hurting your aunt Helen's feelings!" I didn't want to do that, so I stopped. Aunt Helen told my father not to hit me in front of her ever again and my father said this was his house and he would do what he wanted and my mom was quiet and so were my brother and sister.

I don't remember much more than that because I started crying really hard and after a while my dad had my mom take me to my room. It wasn't until much later that my mom had a few glasses of white wine and told me what happened to her sister. Some people really do have it a lot worse than I do. They really do.

I should probably go to sleep now. It's very late. I don't know why I wrote a lot of this down for you to read. The reason I wrote this letter is because I start high school tomorrow and I am really afraid of going.

Love always,


September 7, 1991

Dear friend,

I do not like high school. The cafeteria is called the "Nutrition Center," which is strange. There is this one girl in my advanced english class named Susan. In middle school, Susan was very fun to be around. She liked movies, and her brother Frank made her tapes of this great music that she shared with us. But over the summer she had her braces taken off, and she got a little taller and prettier and grew breasts. Now, she acts a lot dumber in the hallways, especially when boys are around. And I think it's sad because Susan doesn't look as happy. To tell you the truth, she doesn't like to admit she's in the advanced english class, and she doesn't like to say "hi" to me in the hall anymore.

When Susan was at the guidance counselor meeting about Michael, she said that Michael once told her that she was the prettiest girl in the whole world, braces and all. Then, he asked her to "go with him," which was a big deal at any school. They call it "going out" in high school. And they kissed and talked about movies, and she missed him terribly because he was her best friend.

It's funny, too, because boys and girls normally weren't best friends around my school. But Michael and Susan were. Kind of like my Aunt Helen and me. I'm sorry. "My Aunt Helen and I." That's one thing I learned this week. That and more consistent punctuation.

I keep quiet most of the time, and only one kid named Sean really seemed to notice me. He waited for me after gym class and said really immature things like how he was going to give me a "swirlie," which is where someone sticks your head in the toilet and flushes to make your hair swirl around. He seemed pretty unhappy as well, and I told him so. Then, he got mad and started hitting me, and I just did the things my brother taught me to do. My brother is a very good fighter.

"Go for the knees, throat, and eyes."

And I did. And I really hurt Sean. And then I started crying. And my sister had to leave her senior honors class and drive me home. I got called to Mr. Small's office, but I didn't get suspended or anything because a kid told Mr. Small the truth about the fight.

"Sean started it. It was self-defense."

And it was. I just don't understand why Sean wanted to hurt me. I didn't do anything to him. I am very small. That's true. But I guess Sean didn't know I could fight. The truth is I could have hurt him a lot worse. And maybe I should have. I thought I might have to if he came after the kid who told Mr. Small the truth, but Sean never did go after him. So, everything was forgotten.

Some kids look at me strange in the hallways because I don't decorate my locker, and I'm the one who beat up Sean and couldn't stop crying after he did it. I guess I'm pretty emotional.

It has been very lonely because my sister is busy being the oldest one in our family. My brother is busy being a football player at Penn State. After the training camp, his coach said that he was second string and that when he starts learning the system, he will be first string.

My dad really hopes he will make it to the pros and play for the Steelers. My mom is just glad he gets to go to college for free because my sister doesn't play football, and there wouldn't be enough money to send both of them. That's why she wants me to keep working hard, so I'll get an academic scholarship.

So, that's what I'm doing until I meet a friend here. I was hoping that the kid who told the truth could become a friend of mine, but I think he was just being a good guy by telling.

Love always,


Copyright © 1999 by Stephen Chbosky

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Perks of Being A Wallflower includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


First published in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a modern classic that captures the aching, confusing, and glorious experience of being a teenager—all through the eyes, ears, and letters of the book’s narrator, Charlie. We don’t know where Charlie lives and we don’t know to whom he is writing. But Charlie’s haunting letters, addressed only to “Dear Friend,” bring readers straight to the heart of his struggles to fit in, to find the will to “participate” in life, and to cope with the realities of the larger world as he learns how to grow up.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss the epistolary format of the book. Why do you think Chbosky chose to use letters as his narrative structure? How did this structure affect the book, both in terms of the story and in terms of your reading experience? How would the book have been different if Chbosky had written it in first-person or third-person narrative?

2. Who do you think Charlie was writing to? Does it ultimately matter whom, or even if he is, writing to someone? Why or why not?

3. Who did you identify with the most? Did you see parts of yourself in any one specific character?

4. Discuss Charlie’s character. Is he sympathetic? Would you be friends with Charlie? Why or why not?

5. What do you think kept Charlie from “participating” when he entered high school? What held him back? Have you ever felt this way before?

6. Who is Charlie’s greatest ally? Who is his worst influence?

7. From Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs to Harold and Maude to The Beatles’ song “Dear Prudence,” Charlie references numerous pieces of literature, film, and music. How did these references shape your reading? Why are they so important to Charlie?

8. When Bill invites Charlie over for lunch Charlie observes, “He was talking for real. It was strange.” (p. 181) What do you think Charlie means by “real”? How does he discern between what is real and what is not real?

9. Sam confronts Charlie before she leaves for college, pleading: “You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love.You just can’t.You have to do things.” (p. 200) Do you agree with Sam? How does this exchange relate to their relationship on a grander scale?

10. Discuss Aunt Helen’s character and presence in the novel. Were you surprised when the truth about her relationship with Charlie was revealed? In what other ways did seemingly positive aspects of Charlie’s life turn out to be negative?

11. After watching an art film with Mary Elizabeth Charlie says: “The movie itself was very interesting, but I didn’t think it was very good because I didn’t really feel different when it was over.” (p. 124) Do you agree with Charlie that in order to be “good,” creative works must make you feel differently? How did you feel after reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

12. Discuss the following passage: “Maybe it’s good to put things in perspective. Sometimes, I think that the only perspective is to really be there.” (p. 213) How has Charlie’s outlook shifted from the beginning of the story?

13. The Perks of Being a Wallflower grapples with a complex, universally difficult stage of life. What reflections did it inspire about your own life? What parts of the story resonated most deeply with you?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released as a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller in September 2012. Host a movie night with your book club and watch the adaptation! How did the movie differ from the book? How did the casting of the movie match the characters you’d formed in your mind from reading the book? Which felt more authentic to you?

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been included on the American Library Association’s annual “10 Most Frequently Challenged Books” list five times in the past ten years. Check out the other books listed on the ALA’s list at . What are your thoughts on the issue of censorship? Consider choosing one of the other listed titles for your next book club meeting.

3. Take part in the time-honored tradition of writing letters with your book club. Write letters to your fellow book club members, family members, loved ones, or even to yourself. Or consider participating as a group with one of the following organizations to write letters to those in need. As you write together, share your notes. How do you feel after reaching out to someone with pen and paper?—An organization that coordinates a community of “love letter writers” with a mission to deliver love letters to those in need of a positive word or encouragement. —A year-round campaign to show appreciation to U.S. military troops through letters, cards, and emails.


In his literary debut, Stephen Chbosky immerses readers in one boy's journey from passivity to passion. The second novel in MTV Books's fiction line, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie, a 15-year-old wallflower, whose candid perceptions and all-too-recognizable struggles poignantly reflect the emotions and confusion of growing up. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters convey his impressions and confusion amid the chaos of his first year of high school. From the suicide of his best friend and his unusual relationship with his family to the disorder of falling in love, Charlie evokes the truths of coming-of-age in the 1990s.

Barnes & Can you tell me how you got The Perks of Being a Wallflower published by MTV Books?
Stephen Chbosky: I was actually one of the lucky people. A good friend of mine, Chris, who is quite an excellent screenwriter, read the book and really liked it. He especially liked the part where Bill tells Charlie, "We accept the love we think we deserve." For some reason, that really got him. And there was this girl, Heather, that he was really interested in [...]. Heather went to school with Eduardo Braniff, head of MTV Books, and Jack Horner, who is an ICM literary agent and my agent now. She just sent it off to those two, and six weeks later I had a publishing deal.

bn: You have vast experience in film, yet this is your first book. How different do you think the process of writing a novel is versus writing a screenplay?
SC: That depends if you mean the process of working within both businesses or just the artistic processes by themselves. In regards to artistic process, both types of writing are very confining and very liberating. A screenplay needs to be much more structured than a book, but there is a lot of freedom in that structure. I have written 12 screenplays, and once you get to know the basic rules -- not of storytelling but of how structure works, how sequences can fit into other sequences -- once you understand that structure, there is a lot of freedom, because you can see the whole construct. But that is also a prison, obviously, because it is limited. You usually only have 120 pages with film, and the tangents are less. You are supposed to get lean and mean and just tell the story. Novel writing is the same, but the exact opposite. The freedom is in the fact that you can go internal and go inside your characters' thoughts or feelings. In terms of comparing the business side of publishing versus movies, the primary difference is that in literature, you pretty much deal with one person, your editor, while with movies there are many people.

bn: Which creative process do you prefer?
SC: It is a give-and-take, because writing screenplays allows me to approach my writing in a different way. My fiction tends to be much less indulgent. And by writing fiction, my screenplays are approached with more inspiration.

bn: Do you think there is a stylistic similarity between your films and your novel?
SC: No, not really. Writing the novel was a very specific experience. Actually, the novel itself began in college. However, when I was in school, it was just horrible. I wrote 70 pages and it was just angry, despondent, and stupid. The only thing that survived was the title and the bit about Uncle Billy.

bn: Was the college version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the letter form that it is in now?
SC: No it wasn't. Originally I thought of calling this book Letters from a Friend, and the way I was going to do it was by imagining what would happen if I went to my mailbox one day to find a letter from my mom, maybe some junk mail, possibly a postcard, and included with the mail was a letter from some complete stranger with no return address, nothing. The mere fact that he/she knew that I would be reading it (maybe they know me, maybe they picked me out of a phone book) would allow them such amazing freedom to be able to share things that they probably wouldn't write in a diary.... I was going to write [this novel] and just claim that I edited it -- that it was a real kid. I wouldn't be doing it as a scam. It would be to let the reader or let the reviewer approach it with that much less prejudice. It was like, Wow, this is a real anonymous who just happened to send it to me and I edited it. That was an idea for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I even tried it as a screenplay three times, but that never worked. But the [character] just kept knocking at the door, and I couldn't get Charlie out of my head. Then, in the summer of 1996, I was going through a really rough patch in my life, and it was truly one of the most remarkable writing experiences that I ever had -- it was as if Charlie tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Here I come." He just said he was ready, and suddenly Letters from a Friend become The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

bn: While reading this book, I kept thinking that this would make a great movie. Why do you think it failed cinematically?
SC: I think that it could be a movie. Why did it fail? I don't know. I think because at that point, the book was not complete. I think I know now what parts I would put in the 120 pages, but I couldn't start with any restrictions.

bn: How autobiographical would you consider The Perks of Being a Wallflower?
SC: There is very little autobiography to it, but it is unbelievably personal. In a strange way, by not writing autobiographically, I was able to approach the themes and the feelings that I was having much more intimately. I always think that with autobiography, there is a nostalgia to it -- you color it a certain way, and you are not as honest, in an odd way. You are either reporting facts or asking, "How could I be so young?" In this sense, it is a very, very personal book, but it is not particularly autobiographical.

bn: In terms of research, what type of brushing up on high school did you have to do, if any? Did you go back to high schools, or is the high school experience still fresh in your mind?
SC: It was still that fresh in my head. With all the themes, it was like I channeled this book; on that Saturday morning when Charlie came to me, this stuff about the rat or mouse experiment, all of it just flooded back. Everything. A lot of these little bits or these little moments of stories that I picked up -- they all fused into one thing.

bn: Are you working on another book?
SC: I am currently working on a novel called Rusty the Anarchist. There are two things I am working on in terms of literature, one being this novel and the other a collection of short stories called Labor. It is all about people and their jobs. MTV Books has the first look at my next project. I always thought that young writers, whatever they do, are almost always in a hurry to prove that their other books weren't a fluke, to just get it going. The thing that was so special about this book was that there was no agenda; it wasn't part of a career path. It wasn't anything other than something that was very important to me.

bn: Any films on the horizon?
SC: At the end of last year, I rewrote a movie for Miramax, and right now I am working on a project called "Paper Anniversary," about the first year of marriage, and this farce called "The Butterfly Effect," which is about city politics in Atlanta. Atlanta is such a fascinating city -- there is so much going on in Atlanta.

bn: What are the last couple of books that you read and really loved?
SC: I just finished The Stand, which I have never read before, and I thought it was just terrific. And before The Stand, I read Crime and Punishment and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. I don't really read a lot of contemporary fiction. I guess The Stand would be considered that, but I just figure that something has been around for 600 years for a reason. I also recently reread The Great Gatsby and Don Quixote. You can't miss with the classics.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think Charlie wants to remain anonymous? Have there been times when you wish you could have, or did?

2. Would you be friends with Charlie? Why or why not?

3. What do we learn about Michael? Do you sympathize with Charlie's reaction?

4. What do you think about Susan's relationship with her boyfriend? When Charlie tells Bill, did you think Bill would call his parents? Do you think that was the right thing to do? What do you think of her parent's reaction?

5. Discuss Charlie's reaction to his brother and sister throwing a party. What did you think about the couple in his room? What about Charlie's response?

6. What do you think being a wallflower is? Do you agree with Bob's definition?

7. How do you feel about Patrick and Brad's relationship? Do you think Patrick is understanding of Brad's feelings? What chance at a relationship do they have? Do you think that you can have a 'true' relationship built on secrets?

8. Charlie mentions that his dad "had glory days once." What do you think Charlie's glory days will be? Do you think he is worried about not having any?

9. Discuss Charlie's family holidays. Are there elements that are universal to every family dynamic? Has anything about Charlie's family surprised you? Describe aunt Helen. What kind of person is she?

10. Talk about the mixed tapes in the story. Are you familiar with the songs and bands? Why do you think Charlie speaks about them so often?

11. Do you like that the story is told through letters? Do you feel you know the kind of person Charlie is? His friends and family?

12. Several important issues come upduring the course of the book, ranging from molestation to drug use. How does Charlie deal with these? How have the issues affected his friends and family?

13. Charlie has a few breakdowns. Do you feel hopeful for him? How much of his past explains his present?

14. Charlie's friends are moving away at the end of the story. Where does this leave Charlie? Can he make new friends?

15. Bill is very supportive of Charlie. How does this affect Charlie?

Stephen Chbosky grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Southern California's Filmic Writing Program. His first film, The Four Corners of Nowhere, premiered at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win Best Narrative Feature honors at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. He is the recipient of the Abraham Polonsky Screenwriting Award for his screenplay Everything Divided as well as a participant in the Sundance Institute's filmmakers' lab for his current project, Fingernails and Smooth Skin. Chbosky lives in New York.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is his first novel.

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