I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky for the first time my senior year of high school. I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read it, it’s a great coming-of-age story about Charlie as he begins high school. He’s precocious, shy, and socially awkward. I related to Charlie’s struggles to fit in (also being somewhat shy) and find his place in the world, as I was getting ready to leave everything familiar and start over somewhere new. I immediately lent my copy to my best friend, Celeste.
When our yearbook came out, Celeste and I enacted our annual ritual of swapping yearbooks and taking them home to write our lengthy “do you remembers” and “can you believe its.” One year I filled up the entire front cover AND back cover of her yearbook. I was a little obsessive with the yearbook notes.
Anyway, there was a photo of me in the yearbook reading Perks of Being a Wallflower. I hadn’t seen it yet when Celeste handed my yearbook back to me the next morning on the bus and told me to open to whatever page. There I was, immortalized while reading this awesome book in the library during study hall. She’d written in the margin, do you feel infinite? Check it out:
Here are 5 lessons I learned from Charlie about feeling infinite.
1. Spend quality time with people you care about. Charlie’s life begins to change when he meets his two best friends, Patrick and his stepsister, Sam. He doesn’t waste time on relationships that don’t matter. Neither should you. I’m lucky enough to still be in touch with Celeste, as well as two other good friends from high school (hey Kat and Char!).
2. When you’re with the people you care about, it doesn’t matter what you do. Charlie, Patrick and Sam go to football games, hang out at their local diner, listen to music, and drive around aimlessly. And have a great time. Some of the best times I’ve shared with friends have been the simplest: a great meal, a bonfire, maybe a little bowling. Nothing too fancy.
3. Read, then share! Charlie is so smart–and so unaware of his intelligence –that his English teacher gives him extra assignments, then grades them on a college level. Charlie reads over a dozen extra books over the year, and at the end he gives half to Patrick and the other half to Sam, and tells them that he’s giving them his favorite books because they’re his favorite people in the world. I think that is so beautiful. Those books became a part of who Charlie is, and he gives that part of himself away. This reminds me a beautiful poem included in the anthology Ophelia Speaks, “To Brooke: On Giving Her My Favorite Book” (the “Brooke” here is just a coincidence!).
4. Participate. Engage. Create. Charlie is great at observing, and through the course of the novel he also learns how to participate–to dance at the dances, instead of just watching. When I went away to college, my dad looked me in the eye as he and my family were leaving and said, “Engage.” He meant that I should live the experience to the fullest, and I did. I was especially brave my freshman year of college–I put myself out there in ways I never had before. I tried out for the elite dance company. I tried out for an a cappella group. I took a yoga class for the first time. And I ran for student council, becoming the freshman rep for my dorm and thereby finding my niche.
5. Don’t blame yourself when bad things happen to you. I don’t want to spoil the ending for those who haven’t read it, so I’ll just say that at the climax Charlie comes to understand something about his past that is a root cause of some of his pain. He is quick to say, “I am not the way I am because of what I remembered.” He learns not to blame himself, and it gives him the freedom to engage in life instead of watching it go by.
What are your favorite coming-of-age stories?