by: Raechel T
I was 17 years old—exactly ten years ago—when I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was summertime, I worked part time at the Gap, and I was in love with the boy who recommended that I read it. I met him, we’ll call him “Joe,” at a show. His pop-punk band was playing a show with my then-boyfriend’s pop-punk band, and when I saw him on stage, I, for the first time, became a believer in love at first sight. In between sets, he and I made clumsy conversation on yellow-lit sidewalks, and the sparks between us added to the heat of the sticky June night. That night I left with vivid dreams of his features—fluffy blonde hair, a goofy grin, and clear blue eyes—and his AIM screen name (ah, the early 2000s!). After a few conversations with him—including one where he told me he just knew I would love Perks—I decided to break up with my boyfriend. Joe and I had our first kiss the next day.
At the time, reading Perks felt life changing. Throughout the epistolary-style novel, Charlie, the protagonist, writes letters to an anonymous “friend,” whom he thinks will understand. He writes about his past, and continues to describe his time during his freshman year of high school, where he makes friends with the alluring and offbeat Sam, and her kind, gay step-brother, Patrick. Charlie, was young, misunderstood, and felt things deeply. He listened to obscure bands and liked literature. He was an easy hero for those of us in high school who felt like mainstream society didn’t totally ‘get us.’ And one reason I fell in love with Joe is because he felt that same connection to the novel.
As I was reading through my first time, I would tell Joe about all my favorite parts. We would talk about the characters like they were friends. And for my birthday, Joe recreated one of the mixtapes from the book. Like Charlie, I listened to The Smiths sing me to sleep almost every night.
So when the trailer was released for the film adaptation of Perks of Being a Wallflower, you can imagine that I felt a mix of terror and excitement. Would Hollywood cheapen this sacred text from my youth? Would the casting decisions match the pictures I painted in my head? Would they keep the same music, or try to update it to appeal to a younger generation?
After watching it, I felt torn. I was pleased to see Charlie’s face and hear his voice, as they paralleled my vision. Emma Watson as Sam was a bit disappointing. Was Sam blonde in the book? If she was, I changed that in my brain and made her brunette. Casting Paul Rudd as Bill wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I have faith that Rudd will pull it off. Could be better, could be worse.
But the trailer was full of snapshots of scenes that made me remember pages from the story. And it evoked in me a wave of nostalgia so strong that I felt compelled to remember the details of that summer when I was 17 and in love and reading the book for the first time. For that, I think all of us who were touched by the novel should be optimistic about the film’s potential to be good.
Perhaps my biggest fear is that watching the story on screen will make me feel old. Without a doubt, Charlie’s struggles will not speak to me the way they did back then. That, I can handle. But will I watch this film and be slapped in the face with a reminder that I am now one of those people who just doesn’t ‘get it’?
To answer that question, I decided to reopen my beloved copy of the book. Page one eased my worries. Charlie writes, “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I am trying to figure out how that could be.”
Ten years later, that line resonates with me as much as it did the first time I read it. Maybe even more. For those of us who loved the book, maybe, no matter how old we get, deep down, we’ll always be wallflowers. And when I go see the film this fall, maybe, just maybe, we’ll all remember what it’s like to “feel infinite.”
Raechel T is a PhD Candidate in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include: critical media studies, queer studies, rhetoric, critical pedagogy, and the labor movement. She’s a long-time labor activist and a full-time cat lady. You can read more of Raechel’s thoughts at rebelgrrlacademy.wordpress.com, and you can follow her adventures with vegan food and healthy living at rebelgrrlkitchen.wordpress.com.