This popular book is an excellent coming of age story that will appeal to both reluctant and enthusiastic readers. Written in the form of letters from Charlie to an anonymous recipient, it is a quick, easy, and compelling read. Don't let its simplicity fool you though, as this book has much depth. Readers learn that Charlie was molested by a family member, which has caused him to become a quiet person without a voice, letting people do what they want to him. He passively witnesses a rape, has a girlfriend he doesn't really like, takes drugs and alcohol others give him, and even lets his grieving gay friend Patrick kiss him just to make Patrick feel better. These things upset Charlie, but he internalizes them. Sam encourages Charlie to form his own opinions, speak his mind, and to show passion about his desires. There is reference to Charlie's previous breakdown and hospitalization years earlier after the death of his beloved aunt on his birthday. Charlie's immediate family is loving and supportive. Charlie's friend Patrick is gay and in a relationship that is accepted in their social circle. Homophobia is present, however--a boy is beaten by his father for being gay and Patrick is beaten by kids at school. Some teens have sex, although Charlie only goes as far as making out. The characters smoke pot, drink, and take LSD. There is some graphic language (a-shole, f--k) and homophobic slurs (h-mo, f-ggot). Charlie drives his sister to get an abortion. He gets straight A's and has a touching relationship with his English teacher, who recognizes his intelligence and assigns him extra books to read and discuss together. Parents can talk to their teen about the legacies that families can pass on, such as abuse, alcoholism, and socioeconomic class, and how we have the power to change our legacies, as many of the characters do in this book.
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