I imagine this is the kind of book where a large proportion of readers won’t be able to help but bring their own experiences and baggage to bare in formulating their opinion of both the book and also the film. When it comes to coming of age tales like this, not only are our own awkward teenage days starkly etched into our minds, each generation of youngsters has their own shared culture that for them represents perfectly that particular period of life. This is a process that repeats itself through life, as you get older you continue to consume culture that speaks to where you are in life and consequently, it can be hard to dip into a book that is steadfastly talking about things you went through, but it isn’t talking too you. Things change. The characters might be going through the same things intellectually, physically and emotionally, yet simultaneously everything is different and it can be quite natural to reject it as it doesn’t fit the narrative you’ve lived and experienced in the books, music and films that meant so much to you growing up. It’s something that I understand is both natural and patently unfair at the same time.
I only mention all of this because it’s easy to extrapolate this out decades into the future and imagine a time where you see everything through the restricting prism of experience, allowing it to negatively influence everything you come into contact with. Basically I’m talking about becoming cynical, thinking you’re too experienced, not allowing yourself the opportunity to be swept away. That really seems a joyless way to live and goes against the fundamental part of any cultural contract between artist and audience, which essentially relies on that greatest of things, the agreement to take a leap of faith and see what becomes of it.
So what about the bloody book? Well, after catching myself falling into all the traps I mentioned above, I stopped and mentally reset, telling myself that this was Charlie’s story and to be a little more discerning in the way I was reading it. The first book I ever read about the craft of writing (actually it was a book about screenwriting), spoke about the act of ‘stacking’, that is throwing more and more at your main character, toreally put them through the mill. If stacking could be described as a skill then Perks would be extremely adept at it in the way that it throws situations and scenarios at Charlie to handle, get his head around and attempt to assimilate in his young developing mind. We have sex, drugs, girls, friends, suicide, domestic abuse, rape, abortion, repressed memories and coping with school when your personality and temperament mean that you are naturally a little out of sync with your peers; Charlie is characterised mostly by his introspective, observant nature who is also prone to bursting into tears. Of course not all of that above list happens to Charlie, but it is all happening around him, directly or indirectly affecting his development and weaving a tumult of disconcerting circumstances. Even in the final denouement, something else is revealed that – whilst it pushes Charlie over the edge but also thankfully into recovery – only serves to paint a picture that, when you analyse it, is really rather gloomy and depressing.
In fact, such is the nature of the bad things that happen, it’s quite something that in actual fact, when you’re reading it, it doesn’t feel overly doom-laden, despite the weight of the issues. Seeing as the book unfolds through letters that Charlie is writing to someone that remains anonymous to the reader, I suppose the conclusion you come to is that Charlie is a strong character with a unique perspective on the world, but in the end this perspective, and his horrendous experiences, do not diminish the hope of tomorrow. So I suppose to me this book represents the triumph of the human spirit and the ability to overcome, and when you apply that to Charlie’s best friends Sam and Patrick, this rings true even more.
In the end, the truth is this, the more I’ve written and thought about it, the more it has gone up in my estimations. It covers a lot of heavy topics and I’d say that most aren’t delved into with too much – maybe not enough – detail, but when you put it all together bearing in mind everything else I’ve mentioned, I still think this is a very good book that.
I would also recommend the film as a better than average adaptation that features a really great cast, including Ezra Miller, who is really becoming a favourite actor of mine after this and We Need to Talk About Kevin.