I had heard people say this book changed their life. With the film coming out in September, I knew I needed to read the book fast. Why did I wait so long to read this? This book is exceptional, painful and full of hope! Charlie is writing letters to an unknown person chronicling his freshman year of high school. His only friend committed suicide, leaving him friendless to start high school. Through his letters we learn about his brother and sister, and the new family he makes as two seniors befriend him. His English teacher challenges him to participate in life rather than just being an observer. I love the relationship between Charlie and the teacher. Charlie hints that something has happened to him in his past which makes him different. But he is not sure what that is. There are many profound moments in this book where Charlie evolves as he both participates and observes his life with his new friends. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Charlie’s parents are forbidding his sister to see her boyfriend who hit her. When she tells her parents “he is her whole world” her mother sharply tells her never to say that again, not even about her. This is great advice for everyone. Another phrase that is largely repeated is “we get the love we think we deserve.” I would recommend this book for a mature teen reader. Charlie goes through so much during his journey but in the end he is still filled with hope. That is what makes me love this book most of all.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Who do you think Charlie is writing to?
Discuss what it would be like to start high school without any friends.
Why do you think Charlie’s sister didn’t do anything when her boyfriend hit her.
Discuss this passage from page 17: “You know… a lot of kids hate their parents. Some of them got hit. Some of them got caught in the middle of wrong lives. Some of them were trophies for their parents to show neighbors like ribbons or gold stars. And some of them just want to drink in peace.”
Why do you think Charlie felt brave enough to approach Patrick at the football game?
Talk about what Charlie says about girls wearing boy’s jackets and the idea of “property.”
Discuss “we accept the love we think we deserve.”
Discuss when Charlie’s mom tells his sister never to say someone is their whole world.
Talk about Kurt Cobain or any other icon in this context: “I thought the magazine was trying to make him a hero, but then later somebody might dig up something to make him seem like less than a person.”
Talk about Mary Elizabeth gaining a “superior position” by introducing Charlie to all of those great things. (pg 130)
Discuss this passage when Sam was talking to Charlie about being a friend to Patrick. “At those times, you weren’t being his friend at all. Because you weren’t honest with him.” (pg. 201)
Talk about the abuse and what that did to Charlie as a person.
What do you think will happen when Charlie returns to high school?