My book of the week was The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I came away from this book with lots of thoughts still zooming around in my head. Charlie, the main character, suffers from mental illness triggered by stress and, eventually, the realization of his past sufferings. The book is written in a letter format, which adds to the intimacy you will experience between Charlie’s mind and your own. Stephen Chbosky does an excellent job portraying mental illness through a lens of empathy and authenticity. I put this book down and took some time to reflect on my own perceptions about mental illness and how these perceptions can affect the relationships I have with friends and loved ones as well as with my future students.
From Kia Jane Richmond’s article, Using Literature to Confront the Stigma of Mental Illness, Teach Empathy, and Break Stereotypes, her commentary on mental illness in the classroom noted, “In order for students to achieve at their greatest potential they must be educated in a safe and emotionally healthy environment,” (19). Providing a welcoming environment for students is an essential aspect of cultivating a community in the classroom. In The Perks of Being A Wallflower, we see Charlie experiencing social tensions as he enters high school with hopes of finding friends, which is a common stress for all teenagers, but especially those who live with mental illnesses adding tension to already stressful situations. Books like this, allow students to put themselves in the shoes of a character living a seemingly normal life while trying to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, which demands students’ attentions regarding sensitive topics such as this in society. Charlie is a lovable character learning the ropes of high school, experiencing his first parties and first love, and, throughout the book, hinting at his rocky past trips to the hospital. The enticement of a love story and a happy ending for Charlie helped me zoom through the book, but we eventually learn the reason behind his emotional and social issues that reminds us not everyone always has the happy past we hope for, but should promote our empathy and desire to take action in standing up for those who suffer and live with mental illnesses.
Initiating conversation about mental illness will help extinguish the stigma surrounding the notably sensitive topic in our culture. No person, let alone a student, should ever feel as if they have to take on a difficult time on his or her own. If there is a student who may struggle with mental illness, there should be a community waiting to back him or her up with support and resources to reach a state of stability and prosperity. As we see and know of heartbreaking stories every single day where someone has fallen victim to the clutches of mental illness, our society should be waking up and realizing that this is something we should be dealing with and working through together rather than letting those who suffer, fall alone. Although The Perks of Being A Wallflower had several instances very mature content that may be difficult to encounter in a classroom setting, it is a way to open up conversation about mental illness, and is a book I would put on a reading list as optional for students, and if I did a book talk to introduce this book on a reading list, I would be sure to warn about this content. I think The Perks of Being A Wallflower still ends with hope for Charlie because he has a support system of people around him, and that is the message we should be sending to those who struggle with mental illness and by creating an ending that still puts value on a support group is essential to setting up a positive example for society at large and for our students.