Dear Stephen Chbosky (can I call you Stephen?),
I am writing to you because, for almost five years, you are the one responsible for the creation of my favorite book and one of my favorite movies. A book and a movie that still manage to surprise despite quite a few rereads and rewatches. A book and a movie that dig deeper and deeper inside of me as time goes by.
I find it funny to think that my first ever interaction with The Perks of Being a Wallflower was pretty synesthetic. I remember reading it for the first time on my phone, during a holiday, when I got bored at church and wanted to distract myself. You know how, in the narrative, Charlie spends the entire time talking about music? This is going to sound a bit cliché, but I associate your book/my first reading with Taylor Swift’s album Red because that’s what I was really into during those two days when Perks made me feel infinite for the first time; it’s the melody of the songs, the smell of my room, the entire vibe that connects me to that first moment.
To be fair, the book only piqued my interest because I had heard of the movie, which starred two of my favorite actors from two franchises I adore: Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. From the very first time to the last, I don’t think I can’t dissociate the characters of Charlie and Sam from the actors anymore, so thank you for a spot-on casting — I know you are not a casting director, but I do guess input in these things is one of the perks of directing the movie you wrote based on the novel you also wrote, right?
Being 15 at the time of the first reading, one would imagine I would have picked up on the clues, themes, and hidden meanings more easily. Well, I didn’t. I’m not quite sure given my spotty memory, but I don’t even think I picked up on the whole sexual assault ordeal because I specifically remember being really shocked about two or three years ago when I reread the book and did some research on the internet and found out about it. I mean, yeah, it’s quite dumb of me to overlook that part, and I do feel like absolute shit. That’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back to your book and movie; there’s always more to decipher.
Five years have passed and things have changed since then. By now, I can perfectly read Perks in English which is nice because there are, truly, a lot of things that get lost in translation, especially idioms. I am also far more attentive to themes, offensive content, unfortunate implications, and diversity, and that’s mostly because of my writing for this website.
On that note, you did a great job exploring sexualities, triggers, abortion, and male victimization. Ethnic diversity, however, not really — I mean, I don’t know if the state the story takes place in is, realistically, that white, and I do appreciate the attempts made by Charlie’s family to shut down their racist grandfather. But isn’t everyone white in the book and the movie? Like… it makes me feel sad that people of color may not connect to the story the way I do. I guess I can, however, commend your mentions of feminism which, gasp, also went over my head as a 15-year-old (but thank heavens they don’t anymore).
Oh, and if I can nitpick one specific aspect of the movie that I felt really betrayed by, why wouldn’t you include Landslide in the soundtrack? Did Fleetwood Mac not allow it? It is such an iconic song played during such an iconic moment and one of the very few songs mentioned that I actually knew (from Glee, sure, but it counts). So, yeah, it’s been years, and I’m still mad about it.
Incidentally and on a more serious note, thank you so much for taking the time to include Patrick, Brad, and every single inclusion of LGBT+ terms and people. Frankly, I don’t quite remember how I felt about it during my first reading, which is kind of weird given that closeted people in denial, like I was, tend to remember these things but go figure. Nowadays, I give such a special amount of attention to the scenes involving them, and it warms my heart that you put that kind of content out in 1999. Merely 18 years ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime in terms of LGBT normalization.
The thing about Patrick and Brad is that you can really feel for them. Charlie does such a good job at describing what Patrick tells him and the emotions he feels — from a love doomed by familial homophobia to a breakup that seemingly kills both characters on the inside to a general “there’s hope for the future even if they are not together anymore” vibe. It’s so extremely poignant, and the handling of depression and sadness is really well done.
I don’t want to get sappy, so I’m not going into a lot of details, but things right now haven’t been the very best as I’ve dealt with personal life, education, family, stress, and overlapping grief. During the last reading/watch a few weeks ago, Patrick helped me in the sense that I found the way he dealt with depression really engaging and relatable — well, some differences, sure, but the overall mood was there. It’s hard to deal with loss and you end up giving in to vices even when you know it’s not the healthiest of decisions.
It is also super cool how the source material and the adaptation sort of complement each other. For example, it wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that Charlie’s family remains nameless during the entirety of the novel that I actually noticed it. Then we have the names spoken out loud in the movie and suddenly it is canon that Charlie’s last name is Kelmeckis and his sister is named Candace. There’s also a scene from the movie — the one where Sam and Patrick talk about Charlie not having any friends — that I could have sworn was taken word for word from the book, but I’d be wrong. Yet it fits so seamlessly in the narrative that you can knit them together for an ultimate version that works perfectly.
You know, there was a time where I tried writing to Charlie as a journaling device? It didn’t last long, but that’s on me and my terrible time managing skills. It helped me to focus on things a few years back because, even when I knew that Charlie only existed in fiction, there’s this bond between reader and character that makes it real. The same way Charlie needed the “friend” to write to because he felt he would care about him, I think it’s fair to say that I needed Charlie as well. Who knows, but I think other people have needed Charlie since ’99, too and, thankfully, he has been here.
It is sad to think that Charlie has been through sexual abuse though. Part of me is still “why would Aunt Helen do that to him?”, but that’s a question that I don’t think people can really answer. Why is there an abuse cycle? Why do the abused become the abuser? Is it about how love is given and received differently and people just manifest it differently? I legit don’t know. It’s a level of tragic that makes you feel things deeply and you just hope Charlie got the love he deserved.
Speaking of love, I also have to thank you for one of the sentences that I think about the most; there’s such a poignancy and depth to “We accept the love we think we deserve” that I don’t think the sentence can ever be replaced. It was worded perfectly to demonstrate how your self-esteem and sense of self affects the way you interact with people, your doubts, and anxieties. I’m absolutely sure that it has dug itself a place within many people’s souls, including mine.
For a piece of media that deals with suicide, relationships, PTSD, sexual abuse, and repressed memories, it manages to be so incredibly filled with love that it ultimately transcends the dark seeds. The way Charlie navigated his first year of high school wanting to love and be loved is a perfect picture of the innocence that any struggling teenager can relate to. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is truly an instant classic that will touch the lives of so many kids forever, and I hope you know how thankful we are for what you gave us.