A Book I Wish I Read in High School
Ah, high school. Those years in our lives filled with moments that we both want to remember with the biggest smiles and need to forget with utmost desperation. Mine was no different. It was tough, heartbreaking, and at some point, I thought I would never make it out alive. But it was also full of wonder and discovery, enriching, and allowed me to forge lifelong bonds that no stick-wielding evil nuns will ever be able to break.
But the rollercoaster of emotions, the highs and lows, the leaps and dives of experiencing new things that will sooner or later shape the rest of our lives can be too much for any wide-eyed teenager to handle. Nobody understands, nobody cares, and nobody really believes that you, at the ripe and wise age of 14, most certainly know what is best for you. (Or so you think. Then you hit 25 and you suddenly want to give your teenage self a metaphorical and literal whack in the head for the complete asshole that she was.) Not your teachers, not your dick boyfriend, and obviously, not your parents.
I only got through that precocious period of my life with my sanity more or less intact and without my family and friends disowning me because of two things: Smashing Pumpkins and books.
I shudder to think what would’ve happened to me if it weren’t for the Sweet Valley Highs, the R.L Stines, the Christopher Pikes, the Ernest Hemingways, and the myths and legends that I used to devour in secret (my mother didn’t want me reading books not related to school) while Billy Corgan serenades me with Lovely girl you’re the murder to my world / Without you there aren’t reasons left to find . . .
As I grew older, reading has become a big part of what I do and an even bigger part of who I am. And through the years, I’ve encountered books that not only made me appreciate how far I’ve come, but also made me look back and think, “I wish I read this in high school.” The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is one of those books.
I credit my friend and fellow muse Des for introducing me to this rare gem. I say it’s a rare gem because this book, written as letters by ninth-grader Charlie to an anonymous person after one of his friends committed suicide, is one of the very few literary works that give an honest and true insight into the complicated struggles and complex issues that a teenager can face in a very real world.
The truth about high school and how fragile a time it is for an individual is sometimes lost on adults, either taken for granted or forgotten. Imagine the confusion of being pulled from opposite directions, while getting glimpses of the very same things that parents try to hide and shield their children from. In the book, Charlie deals with losing loved ones at an early age, repressed memories of sexual abuse in the hands of someone he trusted and loved, drugs, and homosexuality. But it’s also a world of first kisses and first dances, mixtapes and F. Scott Fitzgerald, getting high in the car and heartbreaks.
In a time of self-discovery, Charlie relates the obstacles he’s facing and his little explorations in a series of sincere, profound, and intimate letters sent over the period of his transition to high school. Through these letters, readers can glean his quiet bravery and innocent curiosity, as well as his growing understanding of the world around him and the people close to him.
The struggles that the book presents is true not only for teenagers in America but everywhere in the world. Drugs and sexuality, for example, are just two of the most common issues that any teen will have to confront. Shining a light to these “darker” themes gives the rest of us adults, parents or otherwise, a chance to understand and realize that high school―the real high school―has nothing to do with students and teachers breaking out into situation-appropriate songs and well-rehearsed dance numbers. Sometimes, it’s a world where bubbles are burst, myths and fairy tales are debunked, and made more complicated by the fact that clueless and confused teenagers are trying to make sense of very real adult situations. Teens make tough choices every day in what seems like a secret life that most adults in their lives either fail or refuse to acknowledge.
My life in high school wasn’t nearly as tough as the one Charlie has in the book. But reading it reminded me of how confused and lost I was during my freshman year, having just transfered from a much smaller school. Of my desperation to break the stereotypes, and at the same time, of my fear that being different would make me an outcast. I read this book when I was already working, and I felt a little sad for not having the chance to read it back when I needed it the most. But just the same, I am very thankful for this book. Not only for the heartfelt simplicity and the beauty of Chbosky’s prose, but also for the lessons that will always ring true no matter where and when I am in my life.
Interestingly, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the most banned books among high schools in the United States, and that, to me, does teenagers a great disservice and only only proves one point: adults don’t always know best. In fact, most of the time, we know nothing.
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