Back in 1999, when Stephen Chbosky's young-adult novel was published, some book critics compared it with J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" in the way it sensitively captured the confusion and angst of being a teenager.

As he begins his freshman year in high school in suburban Pittsburgh in 1991, troubled Charlie (Logan Lerman) is recovering from the emotional aftermath caused by his best friend's suicide and the death of his aunt. Confiding only in an anonymous pen pal, Charlie fervently hopes that this will be the beginning of a new chapter in his life. While his first few days are wretched with loneliness, he's soon befriended at a football game by Patrick (Ezra Miller), an audaciously gay senior, and his inseparable stepsister Sam (Emma Watson).

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Welcomed into their eccen-

tric group of rebellious, self-proclaimed "wallflowers," Charlie confronts issues of sexuality -- straight and gay -- and friendship. He experiments with drugs and becomes the reluctant crush of a self-described Buddhist/punk rocker (Meg Whitman). Charlie slowly struggles toward conquering his demons and discovering his own identity. Helping him along the way are his concerned parents (Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott) and sister (Nina Dobrev), along with an encouraging English teacher (Paul Rudd).

Adroitly adapted for the screen and subtly directed by Chbosky, its innate compassion elevates it above other coming-of-age dramas. And Chbosky's casting choices are perfect. Logan Lerman ("3:10 to Yuma") embodies the compelling awkwardness of anguished adolescence. Leaving her ionic role as Hermione Granger in the "Harry Potter" franchise behind, Emma Watson epitomizes Charlie's delicate yet damaged dream girl, while Ezra Miller ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") gives charismatic Patrick's clowning an added dimension of pathos. For added pleasure, Chbosky includes them all in an amusing tribute to the enduring appeal of "The Rock Horror Picture Show".

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is an earnest, eclectic 8 -- with a memorable music mix that includes David Bowie, Air Supply and New Order.