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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Summary


Here you will find a The Perks of Being a Wallflower summary (Stephen Chbosky's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Summary Overview

Our protagonist, a 15-year-old lad referred to as Charlie, starts his high school journey as an introverted and observational observer. He documents his experiences in a series of letters penned to an unseen confidant. The narrative is punctuated by two tragic events in Charlie's past - the suicide of his only middle-school friend and the devastating car crash that claimed his cherished Aunt Helen on his seventh birthday. As he navigates high school, he finds encouragement from his English teacher, who nurtures his literary prowess. Additionally, he finds companionship in siblings Sam and Patrick, with whom he forms a close bond, even as he wrestles with an unrequited crush on Sam. As the school year evolves, so does Charlie, albeit his life grows more complex concurrently. The festive season is particularly challenging, stirring up painful memories of Aunt Helen's death. While literature offers some solace, he grapples with depression and unsettling flashbacks of time spent with his late aunt. Despite these struggles, acceptance from his new friends ushers in a sense of self-acceptance. His relationship with his sister also experiences growth, even as she battles an abusive relationship. When she falls pregnant and opts for an abortion, she leans on Charlie for support. A dramatic turn of events ensues when, at a party, Charlie is dared to kiss the most beautiful girl in the room and ends up kissing Sam. The incident causes a rift within the group, especially with Mary Elizabeth, his current girlfriend. Meanwhile, Patrick's secret boyfriend, Brad, is sent to rehab after their relationship is exposed, leading to Patrick's assault by Brad's friends. Charlie's intervention during the assault salvages his friendships. As the school year concludes, Charlie grapples with anxiety as his friends prepare to move on to college. A sexual encounter with Sam triggers a distressing memory of his Aunt Helen, which lands him in a mental institution. The story concludes with Charlie coming to terms with his traumatic past and resolves to actively engage in life moving forward.

part 1

Charlie, a freshman in high school, narrates his life through anonymous letters to an unknown recipient. He is dealing with the recent suicide of his only friend from middle school, Michael, and the long-ago death of his Aunt Helen, who he lost at age seven. School counselors try to help him process his grief, but Charlie can't express his feelings beyond being overtaken by tears and screams. On September 7, 1991, we learn that Charlie is an outsider in his high school with no friends, often quietly observing or fighting off bullies. His older sister is a senior and his brother is a football player at Penn State. The family tunes into his brother's games on TV. Charlie becomes engrossed in reading To Kill a Mockingbird for English class, catching the attention of his teacher, Bill Anderson, who assigns him extra reading and writing tasks. Charlie later witnesses his sister's boyfriend hitting her and is sworn to secrecy. By September 18, 1991, Bill gives Charlie a C on his Mockingbird essay to encourage him to do better. Around this time, Charlie remembers watching TV with his family, which brings back memories of Aunt Helen. The end of M*A*S*H is a poignant moment for the family, signifying the end of an era. On October 6, 1991, Charlie makes friends with two seniors, Patrick and his stepsister, Sam, who Charlie develops feelings for. Unknown to most, Patrick is dating Brad, the school's quarterback. Charlie confesses to Sam about a sexual dream he had about her, eliciting laughter and prompting Patrick to advise Charlie on the do's and don'ts of dating. Charlie seeks advice from Bill about his insecurities over dating and discusses his sister's abusive boyfriend. Bill imparts the wisdom, “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.” That night, Charlie's parents learn about his sister's abusive relationship, ban her from seeing her boyfriend and Charlie is blamed. By October 15, 1991, Charlie has learned about masturbation from Patrick and has been practicing it. He follows Bill's advice to engage more in life and attends a football game and later a party with Patrick and Sam. At the party, he recalls witnessing a girl being date-raped at a party his brother hosted years ago, a reality he only realizes now. He retaliates by puncturing the offender's car tires. Post the football game, Charlie, Sam, and Patrick drive to the party where Charlie tries a pot brownie. While at the party, he accidentally walks in on Patrick and Brad kissing but is quickly forgiven. Patrick affectionately refers to him as a "wallflower". At the homecoming dance the following day, Brad dances with his girlfriend, ignoring Patrick. Charlie's sister dances with her abusive boyfriend. Sam stands up in a tunnel during their drive home while Fleetwood Mac plays, and Charlie experiences the feeling of being "infinite" once more.

part 2

Charlie is finding school more enjoyable now that he spends time with Patrick, Sam and their friends, including the intelligent and attractive Mary Elizabeth. Patrick reveals his secret relationship with Brad, who had been sent to rehab by his parents to safeguard a potential football scholarship. Brad only sees Patrick covertly since his return. Charlie's first B on an essay is a cause for excitement as it signals improvement. He starts working for a fanzine named Punk Rocky, run by Mary Elizabeth, who also handles local showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Patrick and Sam play key roles in the show. Sam is dating Craig, a male model in his twenties, which leaves Charlie, who harbors feelings for Sam, envious and hurt. Charlie reflects on a science experiment about rats and pain, his brother's sporadic contact from college, and his father's glory days in baseball. He yearns for his own memorable experiences. After his brother opts out of coming home for thanksgiving due to schoolwork, Charlie's mother is upset and takes Charlie shopping. She proposes a dinner invite for Sam and Patrick, stirring excitement in Charlie who reminisces about watching people with his old friend Michael. The holiday season is tough for Charlie's family as it reminds them of Aunt Helen. Each member copes in different ways, with the grandfather and father resorting to alcohol. Charlie is grateful that his brother played football and that there were no fights during thanksgiving. During a Secret Santa event, Charlie gives Patrick a thoughtful mix tape and a biography of Harvey Milk, which is well received. For his part, Patrick gifts Charlie a suit jacket. Charlie gives all his friends presents, including a donation to Mary Elizabeth for her zine and a cherished record to Sam. Touched, Sam tells Charlie she loves him and gives him his first kiss. Charlie's birthday is on December 24, and he can't wait for the holidays to be over due to the emotional turmoil they bring. He receives The Catcher in the Rye from Bill. The family celebrates Christmas in Ohio, with Charlie's father's relatives. On his birthday, Charlie gets a videocassette of the last episode of M*A*S*H for his dad. On Christmas morning, an argument between Charlie's siblings is broken up by their father. Charlie drives the family to Ohio and he reflects on his father's guilt-filled past. The day after Christmas, the family visits Aunt Helen's grave. She had been abused by a family friend, succumbed to addiction, and died in a car accident on Charlie's seventh birthday. He blames himself for her death because she was on her way to get his birthday present. After reading The Catcher in the Rye four times, Charlie spends much of the holidays driving solo and visiting Aunt Helen’s grave. He's been crying a lot and fears he may need to see his psychiatrist again. At a New Year's party, Charlie tries LSD, which leaves him in a contemplative state with suicidal thoughts.

part 3

In early 1992, Charlie pens a letter to his anonymous confidant, revealing that he inexplicably found himself in the hospital after a bout of vomiting and an episode of self-inflicted hair cutting while under the influence of LSD. This episode scares him and he researches the long-term effects of the drug, but his friends Sam and Patrick reassure him. His mood starts to improve, possibly due to his new psychiatrist as well as engaging in meaningful conversations with his friends about subjects such as Kurt Cobain. As time passes, Charlie's English teacher, Bill, assigns him more books to read. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth, another friend, asks Charlie to attend the Sadie Hawkins dance with her. Though Charlie would rather Sam be jealous, she instead gives him advice on how to behave with Mary Elizabeth. At the dance, Charlie listens to Mary Elizabeth talk about herself the entire time and is unable to kiss her goodnight. He also learns that his sister is pregnant and agrees to drive her to an abortion clinic. Charlie's relationship with Mary Elizabeth continues with more dates, despite her monopolizing the conversation. His frustration grows, but he doesn't voice it. Things come to a head during a game of Truth or Dare when Charlie kisses Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth. The fallout is intense, with Mary Elizabeth dismissing him and the rest of their friend group shunning him. With no one else to turn to, Charlie spends his spring break reading and smoking pot, trying and failing to mend his relationships and make everything right again.

part 4

During this period, Charlie has become more of an observer than a participant in life. He approaches Susan to talk about Michael, but she stays silent causing someone else to call him a freak. Charlie makes another buy from his pot dealer Bob and finds out that Brad's father found out about Brad and Patrick's relationship and beat Brad in front of Patrick. Charlie is relieved when he sees Patrick in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When Brad returns to school, he acts coldly, especially towards Patrick. After an altercation, Charlie defends Patrick resulting in them and Brad's friends getting suspended while Brad and Charlie get detention. Brad thanks Charlie for intervening. Sam is initially upset with Charlie about Mary Elizabeth, but they reconcile. Patrick stops performing in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which leaves Charlie feeling uneasy. Charlie and Patrick spend more time together, with Patrick mostly surviving on coffee, cigarettes, and caffeine pills. A kiss shared between them is chalked up to Patrick missing Brad. Later, Patrick takes Charlie to a park where gay men meet. Charlie recognizes a local sportscaster who talks about Charlie's brother. Brad is seen kissing another guy and Patrick is grateful for Charlie's friendship. As the school year nears its end, everyone starts planning their future. Charlie enjoys school now and notices Patrick's attempt to sober up. Charlie loves the book Bill gives him, The Fountainhead, and starts writing his own story. He is excited but also sad about his friends' graduation, which is still three years away for him. Charlie spends time with his friends at a party, at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and at prom. He is alone on prom night, feeling increasingly isolated as graduation approaches and Sam prepares to leave for college. He spends time with Bill and his girlfriend. Charlie learns that Sam and Craig broke up due to Craig's infidelity. Bill tells Charlie that he considers him a friend, not just a student. The last day of school is full of reminiscences for Charlie. His sister graduates as the salutatorian. Charlie hangs out with Patrick and Sam at a dance club, gives them books as gifts, and promises to stay in touch. He even introduces himself to the kid in the locker next to him. As Sam prepares to leave for college, Charlie helps her pack. They share a kiss but when things get more intense, Charlie pulls away. This triggers a repressed memory of being molested by Aunt Helen. After Sam leaves for college, Charlie has a breakdown and begins hallucinating TV shows. He acknowledges the suppressed memories of Aunt Helen and thanks his "friend" for his patience before saying goodbye.


Aug 23, 1992 Charlie pens another letter to his "friend" after a two-month gap, during which he was institutionalized. His parents discovered him in a catatonic state at home, prompting them to take him to a mental health facility. It was there that Charlie confronted the truth that he had been sexually abused by Aunt Helen. This revelation pushed him over the edge. His family rallied around him in support, and even distant relatives sent letters and flowers. His friends, too, visited him during his stay. Charlie, despite his own trauma, forgives Aunt Helen, acknowledging her emotional struggles. He was discharged the previous day, he writes, and has begun valuing the simple joys in life, like sharing a meal with his mother. In an echo of happier times, he, Patrick, and Sam drive through the tunnel, where Charlie experiences a feeling of "infinity." Committed to actively engaging in life, Charlie resolves to stop the letter-writing.

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