Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Perks of "Reading" a Wallflower...

Hello, all. Pardon me as I vacuum up this pile of sand in front of the dryer, but I’m just back from a much-needed getaway at the shore, and I’m fairly certain that I brought back half the beach with me. Yes, visiting the ocean is one of my favorite things to do (minus the laundry afterwards, of course). I find its salty breezes and thunderous waves to be incredibly grounding. It’s as if I lay eyes on the ocean and in that moment realize just how truly insignificant we are in the greater scheme of things—at least that’s what I used to think. This year, I’ve had a shift in mindset. The cause of my “ah-ha” moment? My newest friend, Charlie.

My lifestyle is such that I have very little time left to read for enjoyment. Between working a full-time job, taking graduate classes, being a mother, wife, and sidelining as an author…well, you get the idea. So when I do get away, I always cart along a pile of books to read because, and this is a big one, when I go on vacation I actually make an effort to relax. Reading for enjoyment is a big part of that process.

This summer, my dear friend Holly suggested: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I know, I’m a little late on this one, but better late than never…right?! Anyway, Holly’s usually right on the mark with her book suggestions (she’s an even bigger book nerd than I am). So when I asked her for suggestions, she asked me whether I wanted fluff or something heavy. “Heavy!” I replied. If I'm going to read a book, I want to feel "changed" in some way after I read it. Boy oh boy was Holly right on the mark with this one. In four words: “It rocked my world”.

Yes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is intended for a teenage audience, but as a once awkward 15 year old, I found it very easy to relate to Charlie’s struggles. Heck, as a parent and as someone who works with children, I could also relate to Charlie. Believe me. You need not be a teenager to enjoy this novel. Here's the skinny.

Through a series of letters he writes to his “Dear friend,” Charlie gives us a glimpse into his world and in doing so, into his many struggles…and yes, Charlie has many struggles. Once I picked up this novel, I simply could not put it down. It actually got to the point where I waited for my husband and children to fall asleep in the hotel room just so I could sneak off and read some more of Charlie’s letters by the nightlight. My heart literally ached for this kid.

Without giving too much away, Charlie, a high school freshman, is a deep thinker (translation: a writer in the making) who constantly struggles to make sense of an often times senseless world, an M.O. that I totally understand. When I was his age, I constantly worried about issues and people. It drove me to the point of near madness. Everyone else around me seemed to just ‘go with the flow’ whereas I wanted to understand where the “flow” was coming from and how it got there. Most nights, I cried myself to sleep consumed by the “what ifs” and “but whys”. It was a frightening time to be me mainly because I didn’t have those life experiences that tell you that no matter how bad today gets, tomorrow will come and things will get better.

Thirty years later, I developed an acceptable release for all of that pent up anxiety; it’s called writing. Unlike me, however, Charlie’s baggage ends up being far worse than just a bad case of anxiety. It breaks my heart to say that the root his “issues” are very unsettling, but sadly, not unique. What I found to be more moving than his issues, however, was how he chose to deal with them. As I’ve already said: the novel Rocked. My. World. And it was in that moment, in that space of time where you’re reading the last of what the author has chosen to share with you, that my great epiphany occurred.

There, sitting on the beach surrounded by all of this greatness I realized that although the ocean is awe inspiring and spiritually grounding, that there are actually people out there who can compete with its greatness. People who enter your life like a salty ocean breeze but carry a message that hits you like a thunderous ocean wave. Charlie was that gentle breeze…that crashing wave, and who better to thank than the man who introduced him to the world, Stephen Chbosky.

Through his diligent nurturing and his gift of word, Stephen Chbosky created a character that has not only become an inspiration to me, but to oodles of other readers across the world. So thank you, Stephen Chbosky, for leaving the world a little better than how you found it. I am forever grateful to you. Forever.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with one of Charlie’s many quotable lines, this one speaking to the optimism he continues to nurture throughout the novel despite his constant struggles with depression.

“This one moment when you know you're not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you're listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.” 

As always…
Until we meet again, make it a great week!