It’s Banned Books Week! Have you read anything banned lately? You might be surprised. Visit Sheila at Book Journey for giveaways and discussion of banned books.
If you’ve heard anything about the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, then you won’t be surprised it was one of the most frequently challenged books of 2013. Wallflower shares this distinction with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Hunger Games, Looking for Alaska, Bone, and Captain Underpants, among others. (Go to the American Library Association site for more lists.)
Word nerd note: If a book is challenged, it means that an individual or group has requested to remove a book from a school curriculum or library or a public library. If a book is banned, that means it has been removed. The American Library Association gathers statistics about challenges and bans.
Yes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has controversial content, including homosexuality, rape, abortion, drug use, suicide, and sexual abuse.
But, there’s also good introspection. The characters make some bad choices, but they also face hard consequences for their decisions.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a series of letters that fifteen year old Charlie writes to a “friend”. We never know who, just that Charlie trusts him or her based on a conversation he overheard. Charlie prefers writing letters to a diary because “a diary can be found.”
It’s August 1991, and Charlie anxiously awaits his freshman year of high school. His best friend committed suicide at the end of eighth grade, and his older brother is leaving to play football at Penn State. Charlie has never had lots of friends, and many people consider him a “freak”, so he worries about how to fit in. He meets two seniors who offer genuine friendship, but also expose Charlie to difficult issues.
What I Liked
I love Charlie. He’s kind, intelligent, and accepting, although sometimes too accepting, which gets him into trouble. His friend Patrick says to him, “You see things,… and you understand.” Charlie thinks A LOT, but he’s also naive about sex and drugs. He gets himself into awkward situations.
Although things get bleak for Charlie, by the end of the book, he figures things out. He stops being such a “wallflower” and starts to “really be there.”
In one of his last letters, he says:
But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.
There are lots of great lines like this.
Charlie compiles an awesome mix tape for his friend Patrick, including songs like Landslide, Blackbird, and Smells Like Teen Spirit. I will make a “Wallflower” playlist for my iPod soon.
What I didn’t like
Almost every character has a dysfunctional issue to deal with, and at times Charlie’s world feels exceptionally dark. And, I wish the book didn’t have quite as much drug use or one particularly explicit scene.
Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a thoughtful book that addresses many issues that teenagers face. I’m willing to put up with the edgy content because most of the characters are compelling and real, and the book honestly addresses difficult issues.
When my kids read it, we’ll have lots to discuss.
I listened to the audiobook of Perks, and it’s very well done.
Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What did you think? How do you decide if controversial content is “worthwhile” in a book?
In honor of Banned Books Week, I’m giving away a Barnes and Noble gift card to one lucky reader who leaves a comment on this post. Enter by Friday, October 3, 2014, to win.
Remember to visit Sheila at Book Journey for links to more discussion and reviews about banned books.