I still wanted to read the book, though, and was told by bloggers who know their YA stuff that it was wonderful. In fact, based on some puttering around on the Internet, it seems it has even achieved a cult-like status.
Synopsis: In a coming-of-age story told completely in epistolary form, we meet Charlie, an introverted but highly intelligent boy who is just entering his freshman year in high school. In letters from Charlie to an unnamed "friend", we learn of the recent suicide of a close buddy, and the accidental death of a favorite aunt, two events that seem to define him and often dictate his shaky emotional state. Charlie quickly finds his place when he meets fellow outcasts and step-siblings Sam and Patrick, experiments with drugs and sex, and embraces his new friends' sexuality and interests. He is also taken under the wing of a charismatic teacher that recognizes a brilliance in Charlie. All the while Charlie is also trying to navigate through his family's challenges and quirky personalities.
The story takes place in the early 1990's in a suburb of Pittsburg, and is a loving tribute to the era's pop culture...reference to music, movies, and television fill the pages. Through special reading projects assigned to Charlie by his mentor/teacher, a hat is tipped to classic literature as well. There is something for everyone, and no wonder it is considered by some as a modern classic.
My thoughts: The author, Stephen Chbosky wrote the screenplay for the movie and directed it, so it was no surprise that I loved the book equally. In fact, the book could have BEEN the screenplay, the plots were so identical. And for once, I was really glad that I'd broken my rule and watched the movie first because the actors were perfectly cast, and were in my mind the entire time I was reading.
There were subtle nuances with the book that made it special, though. The entire story is written in letter form, in Charlie's "voice", which was PRECIOUS. His quirky, lovable personality shines through immediately in his words. Chbosky was genius in creating a character that was raw, real, gullible and innocent. And tortured. They were close to capturing this essence in the movie, but not quite as effectively as on paper.
The movie does a good job of peppering the story with music and film of the time...remember those mix tapes? And The Rocky Horror Picture Show? That is pure '80's and '90's baby. But when the dozens of references appear before you in print, it is more obvious. These were my years, so perhaps this is why I was so taken with it. I also admired the unflinching examination of sexual abuse, homosexuality, and drug experimentation. It wasn't preachy or overblown. It just...was. Brilliant.
5 out of 5 stars