3 out of 5 stars
I had real trouble deciding on a rating for this book – I’ve been debating over how many stars to award it since I finished it last night, and finally settled on three, which is a solid rating. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed other books that I have awarded four stars, hence the lower rating.
I’d read so many glowing reviews of this book that I think I was expecting great things. And whilst it is a sweet, and in some cases haunting, coming-of-age story, it wasn’t fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed it and read it in a couple of hours spread over a few days – but I just don’t see how it has quite the extent of praise that it has earned.
Before starting the book, I didn’t realise that it was written as a series of letters. And whilst this is a way for us to really see how Charlie is feeling as he pours his heart and soul into writing them, it makes the other characters fall a little flat. Sam especially – Charlie was in love with her, but I didn’t understand why because I felt I barely knew her. Most of what was written about Sam was Charlie commenting on how he felt about her, not what she was like as a person. Patrick was a little more developed in that Charlie wrote about time he spent with Patrick in a way that revealed more sides of his character. So although the letter format has some upsides: it is a very personal account of Charlie’s first year in high school; it also makes character development, apart from Charlie, very difficult.
The book was also very simply written. But I suppose that was just how Charlie is supposed to write – he is only fifteen after all. As for his personality, it was really nice to read a Young Adult book where the main character is so pure. Not pure as in won’t drink, take drugs, have sex etc, but as in a genuinely kind and good-natured person. He spends so little time thinking about himself, and most of it worrying over others. He is unstable and very over-emotional, which is something rarely portrayed in male protagonists. It is for this reason that I am interested to see how Charlie will be portrayed in the film – I just can’t imagine Charlie, the emotional wreck, on screen. I feel like they will tone it down a bit, which is a shame because it’s such an important part of the book. Many readers will be able to identify with Charlie’s position – not a popular guy, nor a social outcast – and it most likely for this reason the book has gained such a cult following.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary Young Adult novels, or if you like books set in high school. Although many characters fall a bit flat, Charlie is a stand-out protagonist and we definitely need more people like him in the world; people who think more about how others are feeling than themselves. With a bit of a twist at the end, it is a lovely account of high school without feeling the need to portray too many outrageous parties, consumption of drugs and alcohol, and sex.