Category Archives: Coming of Age

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

First Paragraph: 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.

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, a nervous and unique teenager, through his freshman year of high school. It’s a simple premise, but this novel is about so much more than high school. It’s about what it means to live the life you want, to care for others, to push boundaries, and to belong, at any point in life, for any member of any generation. It isn’t about sugar coating some experiences or over exaggerating others. It’s simply the life of a boy used to observing others, and how he comes to “participate” in life, and furthermore, why “participating” is even a necessity.

That's not just a river, it's my tears

Okay, I got really serious there for a little bit, but if you just spent the last few hours of your life dripping tears all over a book I’m sure you might get a little serious too. The Perks of a Wallflower isn’t the sort of novel where you cry because things are sad, but where you cry because it’s beautiful. It’s amazing that Chbosky was able to write in an unconventional style and format, while conveying a depth of emotion and profound observation that some people might think is only possible through use of words like ‘austerity’ and ‘desultory’.

If I hadn’t read the note at the beginning of the novel about it being a work of fiction I would have pegged it as a memoir. Each person and thing that happens in the novel is scary authentic. I didn’t have to spare any mental effort to picture the scenes in the novel. I still wonder if Chbosky has duped us all by writing a memoir and calling it fiction. As I was reading I even started to worry about characters, I worried that Charlie might not make friends in his sophomore year, and I worried about his grandfather getting sick, and I worried that his mom might get too sad now that two of her children would be off to college.

I'm sorry I killed you...

The best thing about this novel, is that it lets you bring it with you. No, I don’t mean that since the novel is fairly thin and slight you can sandwich it between your textbooks, or fit it easily into your purse—though I’m sure you can. I mean that it inspires you about life, it forces you to strip away all the dreary boring things about living that can drag you down, and reminds you of that day where you sat alone somewhere, anywhere, and how someone came over and talked to you, and how that small gesture could lift your spirits for 12 hours at least. The worst thing about this novel is that I may have killed a tree since I had to use one tissue to blow my nose, and another to wipe my tears. In short, I find it basically impossible to find fault in the novel.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Coming of Age, Romance, YA Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

First Paragraph of Book: My name is Kathy H. I am thirty-one years old and I’ve been a carer for over eleven years. That sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year. That’ll make it almost exactly twelve years.

"I'm gonna win the Pul-Pul-Pulit-Pulitzer prize! There! I said it!"

Review: I first encountered this book in grade twelve when it was recommended to me by my English teacher for an essay. I read the first line and immediately put the book back down. My thoughts were: This book is garbage and sounds like a poorly read seven-year old wrote it… or like the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  In all honesty, the only reason I gave this book a second chance was because I heard a movie adaptation would be coming out starring Andrew Garfield, who I adore. While I strongly disagree with how Ishiguro chose to begin this novel, I strongly urge others to push past the opening and continue on with the novel.

Never Let Me Go tells the story of a specific sub-section of society that are raised with the knowledge that they will eventually be required to donate all their vital organs and will likely never see their 30th birthdays. Specifically it follows Kathy H. who attends Hailsham, a sort of Harvard among the other boarding schools for these types of children.

In a hipster world this would be ironic. and therefore amazing.

Kathy is a protagonist that prefers to take a more passive role in life as a student in Hailsham. Her most outlandish action as a child is befriending Tommy, a boy rejected by his peers for consistently throwing raging temper tantrums and being bad at art. Yes, bad at art. People in Hailsham have giant hard-ons for art, and students who can draw little more than stick figures are mocked. While Tommy doesn’t become better at art until he leaves the school, he manages to keep his temper in check and become accepted by his peers. He even does one better and begins to date Kathy’s best friend Ruth. Despite the fact that Kathy likes Tommy, on Ruth’s request, she spends her efforts on keeping Ruth and Tommy together.

Kathy is not a fighter. As a character she comes off as doormat and often I couldn’t tell if she was ridiculously self-sacrificing or simply too cowardly to pursue her own goals. But somehow, as a character she is still likeable. While she is essentially Ruth’s bitch for a large portion of the novel, she also has moments where she can be cruel, or be as frustrated with herself as the reader is with her. The best thing about this novel, besides the cool faux-utopian plot, are the characters. Kathy H. may be the main point of view but her relationships with the others are so realistic and well-developed that even the minor characters have the positive and negative traits that make each person uniquely human.

It is these traits that make the novel so beautiful and sad.  It’s impossible to move people with a book driven almost entirely by plot with flat, neglected characters. I like this novel because the characters are so human and real that by the end Kathy H. becomes more than the thirty-one year old carer we were introduced to in the beginning, she becomes as real as anyone you might meet on the street.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Reviews, Coming of Age, Faux-Utopia, Romance