What’s it all about?:
“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day…or wondering who did the heart breaking and wondering why.”
Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
Welcome to a new feature on my blog! It’s Banned Books that I’m collaborating with Chrissi Reads and Luna’s Little Library on.
Every month for the rest of 2014 ChrissiReads, Luna’s Little Library and myself will be reading one Banned/Challenged Book a month. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book.
If you’d like to join in our discussion (and please feel free!) below is a list of what we’ll be reading:
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Chosen by: Luna
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Chosen by: Beth
Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks (as “Anonymous”)
Chosen by: Chrissi
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Chosen by: Luna
Lush by Natasha Friend
Chosen by: Beth
But back to this month….
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
First published: 1st February 1999
Still in the Top Ten of Frequently Challenged Books in 2013 (Source: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10)
Chosen by: Chrissi
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking/homosexuality/sexually explicit/unsuited to age group
So, what did WE think?:
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?
BETH: The book was published in 1999 and it’s fair to say that by that time we were a much more open society about things like drugs and sexuality, especially things that were shown in the media at that time for example the increased sexual content in music videos etc. However, I can also see why at that time it was challenged as the book does tend to stray into risky territory with a lot of potentially taboo issues. I think if at that time I had been studying it for English GCSE, I would have been fairly shocked – not by the content, but that the school was “brave” enough to be allowing us to study it!
CHRISSI: I completely understand why it would be challenged when it was originally published. The way I see it is that it deals with some very intense issues. If you’re using it at a school… even from 14+ , it’s a very touchy subject to actually teach. I completely understand that teenagers need to know about these issues, but in a way, I think a book like The Perks Of Being A Wallflower isn’t the best educational tool.
LUNA: Ahm… actually no. When the book was first published I was 14, nearly 15 – so the audience for this novel. While The Perks of Being a Wallflower does have a lot of “issues” none of them, in my opinion, are explored in any great detail. They just get a surface mention. Yes there is some swearing and yes I accept that drugs, abuse (physical and/or sexual) are though subjects but the book doesn’t really go into them. It’s certainly not anywhere near as graphic as I expected given that Perks is still in the top 10 of challenged books in 2013. Thinking of my teenage self and what I knew from my peers, TV and also what I was reading I would not have been shocked.
How about now?
BETH: I’m really not sure! I think it would take a strong person to challenge the current curriculum and bring in books that may deal with darker issues like Perks. I honesty can’t imagine any teacher standing in front of a class and talking about Charlie’s discovery of masturbation or the scene in which he watches a couple participate in some (ahem!) sexual acts. Saying that, it would be terrific if the curriculum included some books that were a bit risky, even just to test the water. I think also that schools have to be careful to respect parents wishes, and some children may be brought up with certain beliefs, religious issues that may be easily offended by books such as this. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why a safe middle ground is chosen?
CHRISSI: I don’t think my views have changed that much. From working in education, I can see why teacher’s would find this difficult to use as a teaching tool. However, I do think it’s important that children learn about the issues that Perks covers in a sensitive manner. I’m just not sure that Perks is the right piece of literature for it. I also imagine the parents would kick up all sorts of fuss about it. With the movie being fairly new out, perhaps it will become more acceptable in time.
LUNA: Still no. Ignoring what I’ve previously there are two main reasons why challenging/banning The Perks of Being a Wallflower makes no sense to me.
1) The reasons “drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group” are already represented the books being thought, both in the UK and the US. I spend quite a bit of time researching the reading list for GCSE (UK) and High School (US) and while they didn’t always match some authors kept reappearing: William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, William Golding just to name a few.
Classic Literature is full of unhealthy relationships, sex, violence and drug abuse. Sherlock Holmes
probably the most famous drug user that comes to mind.
Shakespeare’s plays cover pretty much everything ‘reason’ The Perks of Being a Wallflower was challenged. Romeo and Juliet has teenage sex, plenty of violence and suicide. For unhealthy relationship (you could probably argue that Romeo and Juliet belong in there) there is an abundance of choice. How about Othello? Jealous husbands strangles his wife. For cross-dressing and gay themes: Twelfth Night. (Btw I don’t agree that “homosexuality” should ever be a reason for challenging/banning a book. That’s a whole different rant…)
My point is that the difference between those books and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the language. They are classics and taught throughout schools yet because Perks is modern it’s challenged? Shakespeare is pretty graphic so why is that ok but a modern book dealing with similar themes worse?
2) I think that grown-ups have a tendency to underestimate teenagers. They are young adults, not children. There is still growing to do but pushing stuff aside won’t make it not be there. Books are a great door to discussion. While I’m sure that there will be giggles during Charlie’s ‘I’ve discovered masturbation letter’ that will be the minority. I believe much more of the time will be spent talking about the important issues in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and books like this.
What did you think of the book?
BETH: I went into this book with no expectations as when it was first published I mis-judged it without knowing what the story was about. After reading it and reflecting on it, I thought I was going to enjoy it more when I first started, but thought it was a really interesting read about the perils we all face when becoming an adult. I loved Charlie’s voice in the novel and enjoyed that it was written in the form of letters as it was nice to read something a bit different.
CHRISSI: I didn’t like it as much as when I read it the first time. I mean, it’s an easy enough read, but I don’t exactly ‘get’ why it has the hype it does. In a way, reading it as a few years later… I feel it’s trying to shock the reader with all of the issues.
LUNA: Despite my impassioned argument for why I don’t agree with the reasons Perks being banned/challenged I actually didn’t enjoy reading the book. It took me nearly two weeks of stop and start to get through it, which is unheard of.
I think I had much too high expectations going in and because none of the issues were really explored in detail I felt rather let down. Shockingly I preferred the film.
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: Yes, I think I would. I think because of the issues it deals with it will remain a book that people will still be talking about in twenty years time.
CHRISSI: Yes. I do think it’s a book that everyone should at least try at one point in their lives. Even if it’s just to say they’ve read it.
LUNA: Not sure. I think there are many books that deal with the subjects so much better.
BETH’s personal Star Rating (out of 5):
So, some different opinions from us, which is good! I really enjoyed the views from both Chrissi Reads and Luna’s Little Library and thought they both brought some valid and interesting points to the discussion. But what do you think? Have you read it? Should it still be challenged/banned in schools?
Join us the last Monday of August where we will be discussing Luna’s choice: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.