As a rule, if I am interested in a book-to-film adaptation, I will always try to read the book first. I don’t want to descend too greatly into debates about which are better, (I would speculate that the original books are preferred because they have permission to take up more space and time than a neatly clipped 1hour 50mins format that is packaged for cinema screens.)
There are of course exceptions because it’s not always possible to read a book in time before the film leaves the cinema, and the two most prominent examples for me were Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, starring Keira Knightly, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd.
I knew nothing of the premise of The Perks… prior to watching, only that a number of my Twitter and Instagram books friends cited it as one of their favourite reads. I was moved to tears by the film and so I decided to read the book.
In the last year I have started to mark books with post-it notes every time I read a line or passage that I love, and this book is littered with them. The stand out line from the book and film comes from Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, who tells his troubled protégé, “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.”
Growing up and learning who you are can be a complicated and messy experience, with gut-wrenching emotions, and this book shows this so well, written in epistolary form as a series of letters. Charlie is an outsider, awkward and wrought with emotions. He cries a lot and struggles to understand and process his feelings. He is an avid, borderline-obsessive reader and observes life with a sensitive gaze.
I look at people holding hands in the hallways, and I try to think about how it all works. At the school dances, I sit in the background, and I tap my toe, and I wonder how many couples will dance to “their song.” In the hallways, I see girls wearing the guys’ jackets, and I think about the idea of property. And I wonder if anyone is really happy. I hope they are. I really hope they are.
Bill looked at me looking at people, and after class, he asked me what I was thinking about, and I told him. He listened, and he nodded and made “affirmation” sounds. When I had finished, his face changed into a “serious talk” face.
“Do you always think this much, Charlie?”
“Is that bad?” I just wanted someone to tell me the truth.
“Not necessarily. It’s just that sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
There are some very dark, traumatic undertones, but it is the importance of friendship and acceptance that shines through. Charlie’s experiences and thoughts and feelings broke my heart, but the ending left me feeling hopeful.
Having read the book I believe the film to be a very good adaptation. All the critical material is in there, no sub-plots have been erased or rewritten. Anything that has been omitted or moved around I can understand from an editorial point of view, to aid seamless continuity of parts that might lack the context that the book provides.