I read this book after having seen the movie a few times, and I consider the film to be excellent, so when I heard that the screenplay and the novel were both written by the same author, Stephen Chbosky, I decided to check this out. To my surprise I found the film and book to actually be significantly separate from each other, especially as the story in the novel is represented entirely within letters from the protagonist, Charlie, to an unknown reader.
The story follows Charlie as he enters high school as a socially awkward teenager and follows his relationships with his friends and family, the most interesting of which involves his relationship with his friends Sam and Patrick, his English teacher and his sister. Unlike the movie, which provided a very straightforward representation of these relationships, reading about them through letters created a very different picture for me as a reader which I found quite interesting, especially with Charlie’s constant thought process throughout.
This letter format provides what I think is an extremely honest and heart-breaking character study. The reader realises things Charlie is unable to comprehend, almost like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. However, it also highlights some flaws within the writing. Some sections of the letters feel slightly disingenuous.
For the most part, however, Chbosky succeeds in creating the voice of an emotionally unstable teenager, accurately capturing the reality of teenage adolescent life; something so many young adult movies and books completely fail to achieve. Chbosky has actually been able to create a world seen through the eyes of Charlie which is believable, as well as characters and relationships that are not black and white. This book is not sugarcoated; it is an excellent depiction of the realities of growing up and all of the ecstatic ups and brutal downs that come with it.
What surprised me most about this book, however, was a specific moment towards the end when everything clicked – not in terms of the plot, as I was already familiar with the outcome of the story from my several viewings of the movie – but as to the reason for the format of the book, with a constant string of letters from Charlie to his unnamed recipient. When I started the book I almost took this to be a gimmick, however, by the end, I realised the reason for this choice allowed a personal point of view to drive the plot as well as allowing the reader to develop a relationship with not only Charlie, but the recipient of the letters.
Overall, this book honestly surprised me for being so different to the film, which in the end I feel made me appreciate it even more so. Chbosky has succeeded in creating a character that is so believable and a story that is both funny and extremely heart-breaking, that it is hard not to love and appreciate this book for being such an authentic depiction of the harsh realities of growing up, as well as doing so in such a charming and entertaining fashion.