I love this book. I read it for the first time a few years ago, and I thought it was great then. Now that I know more about teen lit, and have read considerably more young adult fiction, I like this book even better. I have heard discussion that we need a new Catcher in the Rye, a new coming-of-age novel for the younger generations. I think this is it.
The main character, Charlie, is this incredibly awkward, rather odd high school freshman. The story is told through his letters to an anonymous reader, someone who Charlie doesn't know and who doesn't know him. There is never any information given about this mystery reader, beyond the fact that Charlie likes them because they "didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though [they] could have". Charlie begins writing letters because he is afraid of starting high school, and he really doesn't have any friends to share this fear with. He does make friends with a group of seniors, however, and these become the people who are most important to him. They love him for who he is, and they encourage him to be himself. Along with his English teacher, they are formative in helping him discover who he is as a person and a high school student. Charlie helps them through various difficulties, and they help him when he struggles with his depression and panic attacks.
The beautiful thing about Charlie, and about all of the characters in this book, is that they are so real. Not a cookie-cutter to be found. Charlie's older siblings are the least well-formed, but even they are good characters. Chbosky does nothing to hide Charlie's strangeness, and he does an excellent job describing how depression feels from Charlie's point of view. His family and friends are not perfect by any means, but they are real, and it is obvious that they love Charlie. This is a great teen book for all of these reasons, but it also explores some of the more frightening aspects of being a teen, of figuring out how to be a good friend, boy/girl friend, brother/sister, student. Of how to balance your needs with the needs of others. I would recommend this to every teen that we recommend Catcher in the Rye to, without reservation.