I was excited when my book club chose this short YA novel because I’d heard great things about it from Goodreads friends. This story was different from anything I’ve read. It consists of letters written by Charlie, an observant fifteen year-old, to an unknown recipient -- the reader. It’s basically a diary of a precocious teenage boy and I loved his insight into the world of school, family, dating, and sex.
At first I thought Charlie had Asperger’s or Autism due to his unique, naïve voice as well as his emotional freak-outs, but then I understood his mental health issues more clearly once he reveals his secret at the end. I was stunned by the revelation which has stayed with me for a week after finishing the novel, clinging to me like a desperate child.
The story takes place in the early 1990’s and reminded me of some fond memories from that time, including the morose songs by the Smiths which could put you in a suicidal mood. Charlie talks about his sister’s boyfriend making her a good old mix tape:He is always making mix tapes for my sister with very specific themes. One was called "Autumn Leaves". He included many songs by the Smiths. (p. 10)
Charlie made me laugh often, like when he discusses his brother’s football teammates:They finally got around to talking about SAT scores.
And this guy said, "I got a 710".
And my brother said, "Math or verbal?"
And the guy said, "Huh?"
And the whole team laughed. (p. 52)
The following quote was so endearing to me. I loved Charlie even more after I read this:My grandma is very old, and she doesn't remember things a lot, but she bakes the most delicious cookies. When I was very little, we had my mom's mom, who always had candy, and my dad's mom, who always had cookies. My mom told me that when I was little, I called them "Candy Grandma" and "Cookies Grandma". (p. 85)
Isn’t that adorable? I can totally picture a little boy bouncing on his car seat in anticipation of visiting Cookies Grandma.
I loved what his young English teacher tells him about the importance of participating in life. I could see much development in Charlie as he takes the risk to participate, morphing from a wallflower to a valued friend, brother, and son. I think his burgeoning personal strength allows him to face the secret from his past and finally begin to heal. Charlie’s genuineness and vulnerability were quite touching. Highly recommended!