Friendships. New schools. Anxiety. Heavy topics. Silver linings. If I had to summarise ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ in a few, simple words that’s how I would do it. This is a book which raises awareness of difficult but important issues which must be talked about.
What’s the book about?
To summarise, ‘The perks of being a wallflower’ is about a young boy called Charlie who starts a new school and struggles with friendships. His best and only friend from his previous school, Michael, ended up committing suicide which our main character struggles with throughout the book. He meets two older kids from school and ends up being Integrated within their friendship group. Throughout the book we slowly see that Charlie struggles with his mental health and this is shown by its deterioration throughout the course of the book. In the end you find out that his auntie, whom died in a car accident on his birthday sexually abused him throughout his childhood, causing him multiple mental breakdowns throughout his life. The end of the book however, demonstrates a very important silver lining of how getting help and speaking about the things which you are struggling with, will be tough at first, but in the end you’ll be better for it.
Sexual abuse in the Perks of Being a Wallflower
The concept of sexual abuse and unwanted contact can be a very tough topic to talk about in general, let alone to discuss if it’s something that has happened to you or someone you know. The incidents which lead up to the mental breakdown which Charlie goes through is caused by flashbacks he has throughout the book. He explains how his auntie is his ‘favourite person in the world’ and how she died going to get his birthday present. This caused him extreme grief and he blames himself for her death. However, we also find out that he has been suppressing certain memories of her, these being the memories in which she took advantage of him. He doesn’t remember the abuse until it is triggered by the girl he falls in love with and they want to have more intimate contact. There are a few hints throughout the course of the book which show that he is a victim of sexual abuse which Stephen tries to raise awareness of as very often hints made by victims is what saves them from the abuse.
What is sexual abuse/ exploitation?
Sexual abuse takes place when someone else uses a child or young person for sexual purposes. However, this does not only mean physical contact. This can range from physical contact such as unwanted kissing or touching, to non-physical which could be things like forcing a child to take sexual pictures of themselves. These are very difficult situations to handle and one thing to always remember is this can happen to anyone. Regardless of whether you’re a girl or a boy, young or old. In the perks of being a wallflower the main character who is the narrator of the story is a young boy and he is the one who was sexually abused as a child. This shows how there should not be a stigma coming forward if you’re a boy because it can happen to absolutely anyone.
Children’s rights in Wales
As a child or young adult in Wales, you have quite a few rights which protect you from situations which can be damaging to you. These rights are based off the UN convention rights of children. The UNCRC protects children and young persons from all forms of sexual exploitation and any form of abuse. This was adopted by the Welsh assembly to look after all young people in order to help and prevent abuse from happening. You can get more information on this by going to the children’s legal centre and looking for ‘sex and consent’.
What happens if the abuse which happens in the book, happens to me?
These situations can be very difficult and very often emotionally hard to get through. Especially trying to figure out what to do. However, if you are ever in a position where you are being abused or you know of someone who is going through a similar situation; there are always people who can help and you should never hesitate to reach out. The most important thing to remember are the signs of abuse:
*changes in behaviour
*avoiding the abuser
*sexually inappropriate behaviour
*problems at school
There are certain sections within ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ which directly reflect real life situations. A very good example of this is when Charlie’s auntie says to him ‘this will be our little secret’. This section is pivotal because it shows how abusers manipulate children and get them to believe the abuse is normal and should be kept quiet in order to have control when in reality, this is absolutely not the case.
If you feel that any of the signs of the abuse are there or you’re worried you might be being abused you can reach out and seek help in a number of different ways. One of the options you have is to talk directly to the police, they let you do this anonymously if you’re worried or scared about someone finding out, you can also talk to your local children’s social services or contact Childline. You can also reach out to NSPCC where they can offer both help and advice to you.
The most important thing to remember is that if this is something you are going through, there are people who want to listen and help. Abuse is something which no one should go through and the things which happen in the book, are things which can happen to anyone which is why it’s so important to be aware of the signs of abuse and reach out as soon as you can if this does apply to you.
For more information on any topics you may have questions about keep an eye out for the ‘Reading my Rights’ series, lots of useful information included in them which are definitely worth a read!
My name is Diana Lima and I’m originally from Venezuela but my family moved to Oxford 16 years ago and I am an LLM student at Swansea University. After finishing my course I hope to get a training contract in which I will be able to work with children and families.