The Perks of Being a Wallflower deals with difficult subject matter, but the novel allows students to relate to the narrator, Charlie, and discuss these controversial topics in a healthy way. Before delving into the content, it is important to address the social issues depicted within the book. It may also be useful to have students journal their thoughts and reactions while reading or upon completion of the book.

The book is an epistolary novel, composed of letters from Charlie addressed to an unnamed friend. This structure invites classroom discussion for why the author decided to write the story this way and how this perspective affects the tone and relatability of the narrator.

When teaching The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it is important to focus on what remains unspoken by the characters as much as what they share. Secrets, unaddressed problems, and repressed memories feature heavily in this novel. By discussing these usually taboo topics in class, students will have an opportunity to break out of their shells and recognize that they do not have to carry their problems alone.

1. Summarize The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Charlie enters high school and begins writing letters to an anonymous friend. He talks to this person because he feels that he needs someone who will listen to him, being that he always has had deeper thoughts than those around him do. He begins high school shakily, not knowing where he really belongs, but soon makes friends with a quirky group of students who teach him the importance of music and friendship. As the story unfolds and parts of Charlie's past are revealed, Charlie seems to unravel emotionally. The novel shows both the ideas of depression and physical abuse in a new light, with the help of Charlie's unique narration.

Content Warning: This novel contains controversial themes including suicide, sexuality, abortion, drug use, and sexual abuse.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

  • Discuss how the structure of the novel contributes to understanding Charlie.
  • Determine how Charlie becomes more comfortable in his identity over the course of the novel.
  • Discuss how the songs referenced in the novel are thematic to the characters' lives.
  • Elucidate the role of secrecy in Charlie’s life.
  • Analyze how the style of writing changes based on Charlie’s mental state.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 213 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 720
  • Publication Date: 1999
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 11
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2000)
  • ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2002)
  • ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2000)
  • MTV Books' Best-selling Title (2005)
  • New York Times noted (2007)

Literary Elements

  • Allegory
  • Epistolary
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Music and Book References
  • Symbolism

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Friendship — Friendships are crucial in helping characters through hardships. The book also examines how friendships can end or evolve over time.
  • Trauma and Abuse — The novel explores the resounding effects abusive relationships on people by changing how they view themselves and react to later sexual interactions.
  • Literature and Writing —  Throughout the book, literature and writing are used as ways of relating to the world and communicating with others.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Friendship

Themes of Trauma and Abuse

Themes of Literature and Writing

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The unique point of view
  • The quirky yet relatable characters

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Topics such as child molestation and depression
  • Adjusting to the one-sided epistolary format

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