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Summary: (via Goodreads) Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the unique creation of author Stephen Chbosky. This book, which takes the format of an epistolary novel, describes the life of a fourteen year old boy in his first year of high school. Every few days the main character, Charlie, writes a new letter in which he updates an unnamed recipient about the events of his life. Sometimes a lot happens, other times the letter are more personal and reflective. Regardless, we continue to follow his steps into that intimately familiar territory of adolescence.

After completing the book, two distinct feeling emerge: a feeling of compassion toward the great amount of drama and trauma in Charlie’s life, and an unsettling feeling toward the strangeness of Charlie’s behavior. This eeriness is cause by the fact that he only exhibits two distinct emotional states: incredible emotional hyperactivity and complete emotional inactivity. The mystery behind his anonymity (Charlie is the pen-name he creates for himself while addressing the letters) combined with the fact that we never learn where he is from or who he is writing to also contribute to this sensation. And it’s not until we realize the strategic purpose behind his behavior and anonymity that we truly start to understand the book. It seems Chbosky envisioned his hero as the fictional representation of all of us. The author manages to give Charlie this universality by making him a perfect chameleon: Charlie is both reclusive and outgoing, both your best friend and a complete oddity, both emotionally stable and a complete wreck. The reason Charlie needs to be all these things is because he is facing the quintessential life dilemma of choosing whether he should try and satisfy others or try and satisfy himself. What complicates the matter is that he repeatedly fails to do either, which lead him into modes of depression, disorientation, and indifference.

The only times he does get some respite from himself is when he reads books and spends time with Sam, the girl that he loves. Charlie finds comfort in the books that he reads (e.g., The Stranger, The Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead), and you can see a 1991 version of Holden Caulfield and Meursault in him. His friendship with Sam is another thing altogether. He is in awe of her bluntness and honesty and beauty. She gives him a strange sort of comfort and he craves her on a purely emotional basis, something quite contradictory to what he is: a hormonally driven teenage boy.

Perhaps because it’s been so many years since we’ve been fourteen or maybe it’s because we never really had the time to analyze life at that age, but reading Charlie’s narrative is a revelation. The honesty in his words is stirring, packed with innocent notions about things like acceptance, self image, and the emotions of parents and sibling. His account is both wondrous and difficult to read. In many ways, what he reveals isn’t new at all but more like an old memory we’ve forgotten.

Lit Snit Verdict: B

Summary: (via Goodreads) Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back. Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?

Review: I wanna be your Joey Ramone is the debut novel of Stephanie Kuehnert. At its foundation, it is a coming of age story that highlights the aspects of life that help propel us toward adulthood and the things we must figure out before we can cross that bridge. For Emily, these things are music and her runaway mother, Luisa. She has a strong affinity for both and has decided that the best way to fill the void left by the departure of her mother is by immersing herself in all things punk rock.

With this in mind, Emily manages to create the quintessential pre-rock’n’roll-stardom adolescence for herself. She is brilliant but flawed by her youth, which compels her to try all sorts of destructive habits in abundance: sex, drugs, alcohol. Emily’s reckless lifestyle is shockingly addictive, believable and justifiable. Nobody we know grew up like this—or would have wanted to—yet Emily’s narrative makes it seem possible—attractive even! Kuehnert makes us want to be in Emily’s skin, feeling all the teenage angst, reliving those music-induced highs, and rocking it out with her band (She Laughs). Without having to hear a single note, we become the She Laugh’s first audience, and their first fans.

No matter what happens Emily constantly keeps one thing in mind—Luisa, her idol. In Emily’s head, Luisa is likened to a rock god: she is surrounded by mystery and myth, she is unreachable, and her life is guided solely by music. To help the reader understand more about Luisa, Kuehnert intercuts Emily’s first person narrative with brief third-person narrations describing Luisa’s life. This technique has the interesting effect of supplying information about Luisa while still keeping her estranged. In essence, Luisa’s true feelings are concealed and remain a mystery to us; much like her whole life is a mystery to Emily. But unlike Emily, the reader finds it impossible to idolize Luisa. Instead of living the music-driven life of Emily’s imagination, Luisa is nothing more than a hallow vagabond chased by the ghosts of her violent past. This leads her through her own run of reckless promiscuity and drug abuse, but youth can no longer be an excuse—not after 21 years on the run.

As the story concludes, a reflective look over the lives of Emily and Luisa shows two generations of women whose lives have been ravaged by events beyond their control. By creating such similarities in the lives for both her heroines, Kuehnert seems want to analyze the different healing powers of running away vs. running after one’s problems. Her conclusion is unclear as neither method seems perfectly ideal. What is clear is Kuehnert’s emphasis on the power of family and friends. Ultimately, it’s the longevity of her relationships that allow Emily to find the strength to let go of the past.

Lit Snit Verdict: A

Click here to read the review that inspired me to read this book.

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