Wallflowers and Alaska


I didn’t expect to enjoy reading the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I thought, “oh-oh, another book with a self-absorbed teenage protagonist”. But in less than 20 pages I fell in love with the story and the main character. The book is a series of letters from sixteen year old Charlie to an anonymous friend and documents his first year in (senior) high school. I can see why this novel has a cult following. For all his problems, Charlie is a lovely kid – caring, quirky and forgiving. It’s been compared to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye but in many ways it reminded me of Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. It seemed to me that part of Charlie’s problem and, inversely, his peculiar appeal, is that he suffers a type of empathy disorder which isn’t helped by the various problems that life throws at him. The novel hasn’t been published in Australia and is an import from the USA, possibly because of its dark and grungy side that deals with drugs and teenage sex. But it’s definitely a classic for older teenagers.

In contrast to the shy and eccentric Charlie, Miles Halter from Looking for Alaska is a clever and unpleasant young man who is deeply self-absorbed until he meets Alaska and the Colonel at an elite boarding school in Alabama. Looking for Alaska by John Green won the Printz Award for Young Adult fiction in the USA and the Silver Inky prize here in Australia. The book is pacy and well written and cleverly presents a range of philosophical questions so I can see why it’s popular yet I can’t say I grew to like Miles one little bit. He made me feel tired and a little despairing about the way the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Like Perks of being a wallflower, Looking for Alaska is for older teenagers, largely due to the relentless alcohol and cigarette consumption and a dash of sexual experimentation. Not one of my top reads for 2007, but it was obviously a major hit with a lot of readers.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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