by Stephen Chbosky.
Here’s how the novel starts. If such a beginning can leave you indifferent, you’re very unlike me.
August 25, 1991
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.
I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.
Charlie is a high school freshman caught between the colliding forces of inner turmoil and outside influences. The novel tells the story of a year in his life, in the form of letters to an anonymous friend. While it was difficult, at times, to believe that such deep thoughts could have originated from a 15-year-old, that didn’t stop me from feeling and relating with the character.
One could say the novel is a testimony of the friction between two desires: to embrace life, and to run away from life. But it is discussing a lot more than that. Since I have not grown up in an American high school environment, I cannot think of this in terms of “realistic” or “non-realistic”, but it certainly opens a clear and honest window into the world of a teenager.
I find it very lucky, if not downright miraculous, that Charlie manages to find a mentor (Bill, his English teacher) and friends (Patrick and Sam), who are older than him. Bill tells him to participate and stop using thought to remove himself from life. V fubhyq yrnea fbzrguvat sebz gung…
- I wish I knew. It might make me miss him more clearly. It might have made sad sense.
- You know… a lot of kids at school hate their parents. Some of them got hit. And some of them got caught in the middle of wrong lives. Some of them were trophies for their parents to show the neighbors like ribbons or gold stars. And some of them just wanted to drink in peace.
- In the hallways, I see the girls wearing the guys’ jackets, and I think about the idea of property. And I wonder if anyone is really happy. I hope they are. I really hope they are.
- (Bill) It’s just that sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.
- (Bill) […] we accept the love we think we deserve.
- […] get buried or married. I don’t remember which.
- (Patrick) He’s a wallflower. […] You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.
- […] I usually like songs you can’t dance to. […]
- Patrick actually used to be popular before Sam bought him some good music.
- Sam and Patrick looked at me. And I looked at them. And I think they knew. Not anything specific really. They just knew. And I think that’s all you can ever ask from a friend.
- (Sam) I want to make sure that the first person you kiss loves you. Okay?
- Once on a yellow piece of paper with green lines he wrote a poem
And he called it “Chops” because that was the name of his dog
And that’s what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A and a gold star
And his mother hung it on the kitchen door and read it to his aunts
That was the year Father Tracy took all the kids to the zoo
And he let them sing on the bus
And his little sister was born with tiny toenails and no hair
And his mother and father kissed a lot
And the girl around the corner sent him a Valentine signed with a row of X’s and he had to ask his father what the X’s meant
And his father always tucked him in bed at night
And was always there to do it
Once on a piece of white paper with blue lines he wrote a poem
And he called it “Autumn” because that was the name of the season
And that’s what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A and asked him to write more clearly
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door because of its new paint
And the kids told him that Father Tracy smoked cigars
And left butts on the pews
And sometimes they would burn holes
That was the year his sister got glasses with thick lenses and black frames
And the girl around the corner laughed when he asked her to go see Santa Claus
And the kids told him why his mother and father kissed a lot
And his father never tucked him in bed at night
And his father got mad when he cried for him to do it.
Once on a paper torn from his notebook he wrote a poem
And he called it “Innocence: A Question” because that was the question about his girl
And that’s what it was all about
And his professor gave him an A and a strange steady look
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door because he never showed her
That was the year that Father Tracy died
And he forgot how the end of the Apostle’s Creed went
And he caught his sister making out on the back porch
And his mother and father never kissed or even talked
And the girl around the corner wore too much makeup
That made him cough when he kissed her but he kissed her anyway because that was the thing to do
And at three A.M. he tucked himself into bed his father snoring soundly
That’s why on the back of a brown paper bag he tried another poem
And he called it “Absolutely Nothing”
Because that’s what it was really all about
And he gave himself an A and a slash on each damned wrist
And he hung it on the bathroom door because this time he didn’t think he could reach the kitchen.
- I guess what I’m saying is that this all feels very familiar. But it’s not mine to be familiar about. I just know that another kid has felt this. This one time when it’s peaceful outside, and you’re seeing things move, and you don’t want to, and everyone is asleep. And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. And you know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing “unity.”
It’s like when you are excited about a girl and you see a couple holding hands, and you feel so happy for them. And other times you see the same couple, and they make you so mad. And all you want is to always feel happy for them because you know that if you do, then it means that you’re happy, too.
- I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or someone would just tell me what’s wrong with me. Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all go away. And disappear.
- (Sam) It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.
It’s just that I don’t want to be somebody’s crush. If somebody likes me, I want them to like the real me, not what they think I am. And I don’t want them to carry it around inside. I want them to show me, so I can feel it, too. I want them to be able to do whatever they want around me. And if they do something I don’t like, I’ll tell them.
- So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.
- an interview with the author (third question, more on that later)
- quotations in another form
- a variation of the poem
- Charlie’s lists
- 41; 115.