Book Reviews ⓣⓦⓞ : The Downside of Being Charlie

by The Dreamer

Hi guys! It is finally Friday and a really hectic one. I just came back from my school’s Sports Heats and luckily for me, I got assigned to the job of Timekeeper, which pretty much meant sitting in the shade from a high point of view and making use of only your fingers. Admittedly, my butt started to cramp a little. The worst part was being tucked way to the back of the high-view station and watching your friend trip in the race and not being able to run to her. Shoutout to Kiang Ching for being brave despite her friction burns and knee injuries! The weather today (okay, lol, so mundane. But I love talking about it, don’t judge) was really great. Like sunny, but breezy. Okay, more of hurricane-level breezy. But it was such an exhilarating feeling, especially when you’re way up there and you’re watching the riot of colours flying past down there and the wind is like WHOOSH. Okay, end of weather report.

Moving on! Today we will be discussing on the contemporary novel:


 Jenny Torres Sanchez 



In many ways, The Downside of Being Charlie stuck out from the books I’ve read before. I genuinely enjoyed it, despite it touching on sensitive and dark topics, which I will briefly describe later on. The characters were flawed beautifully, from Charlie to his parents to the oh-so-perfect girl Charlie has a crush on. It was a poetic mess, and definitely a tear-jerker. 

Charlie Grisner – or Chunks, as everyone calls it – was a fat kid. But after checking out from fat camp, he thinks that perhaps this nickname will be dropped and his senior year will be bearable. But what greets him is a house missing the presence of a mother, the school loser sharing a locker with him, and the perfect girl that makes him feel conflicted. Oh, and everyone staring and saying “Isn’t that Chunks?” Just great. Will Charlie will be able to skim through senior year unscathed? 

Charlie has an authentic and awkward voice. It’s optimistic, yet pessimistic. It’s real, yet deceptive. Through it, you can tell the riot of emotions within Charlie. The writing was simply breathtaking, by the way. Maybe it’s my personal preference, but I enjoy it when it’s raw and descriptive and truthful. It makes me connect with the book in a unusual way. Like, my problems are nowhere near Charlie’s, but the words made me think of my own problems and realize how it was so applicable and relatable as well.

Charlie has to deal with firstly, his family problems. His father’s having an affair, and his mother has a condition called escapism, where she runs away from her problems all of a sudden and comes back without warning as well, pretending nothing has ever happened. The foundation of this family is really fragile, and another way in which the author had managed to convey it perfectly was through Charlie’s talent – photography. In it, Charlie captures his family. A blindfolded father with a lipstick stain on his creased shirt. Cropped out features of his mother. And then, himself. Charlie, after being verbally abused for being horizontally challenged, has been sent to fat camp in attempt to shed his extra weight. Yet when he comes back, the sight of food seems to revolt him when he remembers the “lessons” in fat camp and he resorts to sticking his finger into his throat. All this made me really depressed, because I could see how the dysfunctional of Charlie’s life has taken its toll of him. However, there is always a silver lining in every grey cloud (is this the correct phrasing?) and thankfully, his new photography teacher and his best friend is there to support Charlie, even if he is unwilling to open up to him.

And then there’s Charlotte VanderKleaton. She’s friendly to Charlie, but she’s involved with the school’s bullies. In Charlie’s eyes, she’s practically golden. But then there’s the thing. As the story progresses, the author slowly peels off Charlotte’s layers and Charlie’s perception of her changes. Like how she seems uncomfortable in her own skin and around others. How she makes a subtle attempt to correct her own actions. How, deep inside, she’s as fragile as Charlie and needs someone who has self-confidence for her to rely and kind of devour their positive energy on. Therefore, Charlie realizes he’s not suitable for her. Besides, Charlotte’s negative influences makes Charlie conflicted on whether she’s playing with him or not. From this, we can also infer that Charlie is really insecure about everything, and Charlotte is also giving him mixed signals and unknowingly contributes to Charlie’s problems.

The sensitive topics, however, were conveyed in a light, humourous tone. This book was basically about Charlie discovering himself, sometimes painfully, and it was the kind of book that made you sit down and be like, “What the shit. This is horrible. Why would the author write Charlie, this poor old soul, but give him such a terrible fate?” And then you close the book, take a deep breath, let your mind wander, and let the tears flow. At least it was like this for me. It was a really sublime book about identity, family problems, mental disorders, bulimia and teenage love. It seems too heavy-content when I list it out like this, but trust me, the author spreads everything out evenly, like peanut butter on a bread surface. A thought provoking and brilliant debut novel that sits in your heart.

-Jean xx