The Perks of Being a Wallflower and
its inclusion in a history of childhood in literature.
First and foremost, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) is a ‘coming of age’ novel focusing on a young high-school freshman, Charlie, and his friends. Published in 1999, Stephen Chbosky received critical acclaim for writing a novel dealing with the sensitive issues some teenagers face during their time at high school. Exploring homosexuality, sex, drugs, violence and love, our protagonist Charlie goes on a long and traumatic journey exploring events from his past that have shaped him in to the person he is now. The novel, written in an epistolary style, the letters are being sent to an unknown person, ‘Dear Friend …’ (Chbosky, 1999:3). No replies are ever received, as Charlie wants to remain anonymous to the recipient, signing off simply, ‘Love always, Charlie,’ (Chbosky, 1999:3). Charlie struggles with life and ‘need[s] to know that someone out there listens and understands’ (Chbosky, 1999:3). This is the start of the journey for both Charlie and the reader. The depiction of childhood in literature, like most things, changes over time, but what is childhood? Peter Hunt comments, childhood is ‘judged differently by different generations and by those with different interests’ (Hunt, 2001:5). This view is relative when considering the history of childhood in literature. Hunt focuses on children’s literature as a genre, and as Kimberly Reynolds points out the genre and the term children’s literature is one which is ‘fraught with complications’ (Reynolds, 2011:2). Reynolds explains that ‘outside of academia, the term … has a largely unproblematic, every day meaning.’ (Reynolds, 2011:1) When we consider a history of childhood literature, we have to consider whether or not every book to be included has to be a book aimed primarily at children, for example a text by Blyton, Dahl or J.K. Rowling; or if it can be a book similar to James Hanley’s Boy (1931), one which is...
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