This is a book I heard a lot of buzz about during my Teen Library materials course at Mizzou a few semesters ago. It is extremely controversial in many respects (as can be expected from most novels geared toward teens), but I believe this book has a lot to offer. It’s full of references to just about any and every life situation that many teens will experience during their high school years.
Charlie is a freshman in high school. This arguably the most difficult year in a teen’s life. He’s struggling with finding a way to fit in, so for the most part he just sits back and watches as life goes on. He shares his experiences with an unnamed and unknown older individual in the form of letters. As the letters come and go, we as the reader begin to understand that there is more to Charlie’s story than meets the eye. He has been through something traumatic, and he’s experienced loss in a way that few people are forced to face at such a young age. This loss permeates all of his relationships, from those with the members of his family to those of his friends. We understand that he is both a deeply caring and deeply troubled individual, who seems incapable of being able to attain what he truly wants. He’s afraid to communicate his inner-most feeling with those who care about him and, in return, is forced to reap the consequences of these actions.
The subject matter of this book is deep. We see such themes as teenage sexuality, family issues, abuse, sexual identity, teen pregnancy, romantic attachment, friendship, and personal loss among other issues. A very prevalent issue is mental health. Charlie’s problems and past have led to a deep and invasive depression that, like many adults, affects his relationships with others.
Overall I thought this was a profound and important book. It reaches to the very core of our humanity and presents teens with many tools which they can use to shape their understanding of themselves and the world around them. Many parents rail against authors who introduce teens to such things as drug use, abortion, and even homosexuality. Whether these parents like it or not, these are things that teenagers are already exposed to and that many of them struggle with. Why can these parents not see the value in exposing them to these subjects in a way that can help them understand rather than to throw them into each scenario in real life without the necessary tools to face them?
Too often we alienate troubled teens, calling them bad and useless if they struggle with drug use; calling a troubled girl who gets pregnant a whore and writing her off; calling a teen struggling with sexual identity a sinner who’s morally inferior. None of these are true and, as adults we have an obligation to provide our teens with the necessary education and support to be able to work through his or her own problems in a mature and accepting way rather than hiding behind their fear. All of these subjects are prevalent in this novel, and the result is powerful. Overall, great book. 4 stars.