Dear Charlie,

At 13 years old, I felt “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” in my periphery. I remember seeing the teen heartthrobs who weren’t actually teens on the big screen, like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. I thought I would like them when I turned 17 (spoiler: I didn’t). I remember “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons blaring on the radio and in the trailers before it became a cliche. I remember learning the phrase “passive aggressive” after Patrick chanted it at the football game in the movie. And I remember your story not making a lot of sense to me. 

I didn’t think much would change in two years, but I suppose that’s the spell of teenhood and why I thought it would last forever. My high school English teacher recommended “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was 15 years old and I stowed it away for winter break. My expectations then are fuzzy to me now, but I remember our shared age sparking my hope for your story. The anticipation paid off by the first page and I clung to every word the way I couldn’t when I first watched the movie. The writing itself was nothing spectacular. It radiated the same diffidence and vulnerability of a 2014 tumblr post — it felt like it was written by a 15-year-old. And at a point where I felt myself most nervous in my life, the book was a rare reprieve. 

At 20, I’ve forgotten a lot about who I was at 15. Ive left my formative years behind, but it seems like I mark a lot of the past by how I let it define me now. And the last five years are marked by visible growth; not only do my clothes fit me a lot differently, but I’d like to think I behave differently now as well. I was a lonely teen who didn’t say much — a part of me preferred it, a part of me simply didn’t know what to say to other people. I, much like you, Charlie, kept a lot to myself. And I think this is why I took to English the same way you did; I might not have said a lot, but boy did I write. 

I tried rereading your story the other day and it didn’t linger with me the way I remembered. Rather, I felt its gravity in specific scenes and moments, the way I felt when I first took them in as a teenager. I took to YouTube and watched some of the more memorable scenes from “Perks” in different videos and cried just as hard as I knew I would’ve in the past. I don’t think any scene from any movie will stick with me the way your panic attack following Sam’s departure did. I had my first panic attack when I was 14 and thought no one else felt it the way I did until I first watched that scene. I never forgot it: the soft piano keys, the silent trudge home with your figure blurred and memories playing back in flashes of light. This might be a tough bargain for some people, but I don’t think any movie captures the sensitivity of anxiety better.

My adoration for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” may lie in the fact that it came to me at the right place, at the right time. Teenhood is impulsive, malleable and vulnerable; it takes itself too seriously but plays out in the media like a blasé narrative. Wafts of our impending adulthood confront our existence as we race against time to piece ourselves together and find assurance in a process that foreign to us and forgotten by the adults we look up to. The reality manifests itself in tough lessons and mistakes, a desire to belong when we feel sorely isolated. 

When I was a teen, I was relieved to find a story where I felt as the protagonist felt. Too often do our teen stories fixate on narratives of love and dystopian drama, the superficial perceptions and definitions of youth. Your story was the rarely told but often experienced tale of teenhood as we live it internally. As specific to you as it is, “Perks” embodies a universality that intersects with people beyond their external narratives. And as someone who lives her life by way of emotion, your story helped me to accept the mishaps of life and tribulations of youth. Things that shouldn’t have mattered stuck from their impact, but I learned to loosen my grip. I learned to forget the shame I felt in saying something stupid in class or the pain of a withered friendship that was never meant to last.

Your story also outlined the significance of the past and the fragility of youth. You faced the general manifestations of teenhood all while trying to piece together the ramifications of childhood and how deceptive our perception of it can be. And your story shows how pain and trauma can inflict a narrative even at a young age when it’s seemingly inscrutable.

I further mark your story as a testament to time in how it pays respect to the sensitivities of teenhood. Every time I reread or rewatch “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” I remember what it was like to be 15. Your story may not have grown up with me, but I definitely grew through its effortless capacity to capture loneliness and fear in their most raw forms. I felt security in the whirlwind of experiences it took you to better understand yourself, a point that definitely applies to the four years I spent in high school. For this reason I’ll take after my old high school teacher and share this book with my students when I’m a teacher myself.

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