Genre: YA Contemporary (Well, historical, now. 1990s)
Format read: audiobook
Content Warnings: mental illness/depression, mentions of abuse, rape, suicide and drug use.
Rep: LGBT, mental health
When we talk about mental health rep in YA, up until just a few years ago The Perks of Being a Wallflower was held up–is still often held up–as the best or only example.
Thankfully, we have more options now.
Charlie is starting high school. And through a strange set of circumstances that are never really explained, he decides it’s a good idea to start writing letters to someone who doesn’t know him, telling them his deepest, darkest feelings. 🤨
A few days into the school year, this shy, quiet kid makes friends with a group of seniors, and is drawn into a much more mature world than he expected. This is perhaps best illustrated when he reads a poem to all of his friends. It’s very obviously a suicide note, but the subtext goes completely over Charlie’s head, leading to several moments of very awkward silence in the middle of a party.
It’s hard for me to describe a plot for this book, because it feels more like a series of smaller stories that are interlinked; a slice-of-life book about a 15 year old boy.
The thing about this book is that the one theme running through it all is that all of the kids are abused in some way–emotional, physical, psychological. Which is important to show, but I would have like to see one person with normal, healthy relationships.
Which is another thing–Charlie’s relationships with his friends struck me as very odd. He’s often a passenger, rather than an active participant, though he does mention in his letters he’s trying to fix that. But it still felt like the power balance between him and his two best friends and his eventual girlfriend is way off.
The book put me in mind of My So-Called Life, which makes sense as it deals with a lot of similar issues in the same time period. It also made me think of The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider.
I think, more than anything, this book highlighted how much things have changed in the last *mumble mumble* years. At the time this book came out, I wasn’t even in elementary school yet, but so many things that were normal and acceptable back then are no longer viewed that way, like the toxic masculinity surrounding Charlie at home, and the behaviors some of the characters exhibit.
I still have divided feelings about this book, so it’s hard to give it a proper rating, or even to decide if I should recommend it. I think there are a lot of important things in this book, but I also think that we can do better.