Let me preface my review by acknowledging that I understand the issues brought up in this book, sadly, are real and more abundant in today's culture than generations ago. This book includes topics such as rape, incest, drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, suicide and dating. It also includes innocent topics such as friendships, the importance of family, accepting people for who they are, and academics.
The book is written in the form of letters by the main character, Charlie. Charlie is a 15 year old freshman starting high school. Charlie's letter are written as if he's around 12 years old but his perception of life at times can be well beyond his years. The reader can easily wonder if Charlie is autistic or has Asperger's with a higher level of function or he may have neither.
Charlie's letters are how the heavy topics I mentioned above are introduced in the story. He writes about these topics as he is exposed to them in his letters to a friend the reader is not privy to.
Here's why I have a hard time with this book. It's not necessarily because of the topics in this book, though I think some could be detailed less. Again, I understand these issues are real and today's younger generations are exposed to them, more than they should be. The problem I have is it's marketed to teens as if all teens have experienced or been exposed to these issues. It's written as if all these behaviors are normal for everyone. It bothers me that Charlie is 15 and experiencing these issues as if all 15 year olds have been exposed and/or participate in these behaviors. I also find it disturbing that one of the reasons Charlie is being exposed is because his parents don't show much concern with who Charlie is hanging out. His friends in the book are all seniors and he's a freshman. I know my parents were stricter than some but never would they have just let me go hang out with a group of seniors whom they didn't know. Charlie's parents allow Charlie to take the car, never asking where he is going, never giving a time to be home, and never asking what he has been doing even though he's clearly high or drunk when he returns home. Meantime, Charlie is being introduced to so much...sex, drugs, smoking, rape, alcohol, homosexuality, etc. All the while, the reader is trying to figure out Charlie's social issues. And maybe the lack of parental concern was an intention of the writer. Let me clarify, it's not that his parents aren't involved, they just are concerned with his social activity.
In the end, the reader realizes that Charlie was sexually abused. This could be why he's a "wallflower" or seems to be different than his peers.
I asked my 16 year old niece if she had heard of this book. I wasn't surprised when she said yes. I told me sister that I didn't recommend that my niece read this book, even though she's never mentioned a desire to read it. Some may call me over protective saying that I am "too sheltering". That's okay, I believe it is my responsibility as a Christian parent to keep my children's hearts innocent and guarded as long as I can. I simply would not allow them to read such a book solely based on "they are going to face it one day" or "everyone else is reading it" or "you can't protect them forever"...all of which are reasons I read for parents allowing this book to be read by their children as young as 10.