*WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOR The Perks of Being A Wallflower*
Of all the banned books out there, there are a few that are a bit like the middle school nerds of the book world. Others may get an occasional insult, these ones get tripped in the hall and have their lunches stolen.
One in particular is Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being A Wallflower, published in 1999 it is widely acclaimed and considered a modern classic of Young Adult literature. It's about a high school freshman named Charlie who is the titular "wallflower" and the very realistic good, bad and ugly experiences he goes through.
So why is it challenged so often? Sexual content, drug use, underage drinking and smoking, and profanity. In this blog I shall pick through this various controversial passages (I'm not going into paragraphs of detail over each one but expect this one to be a long one) and tell you why they are important to the story and why this book is important to teens.
Let's start with sexual content since that seems to be the largest issue.
To say there's a lot of sex in the book is less than half-accurate. There are many references to teenagers having sex, but these references are non-descriptive, brief and really no different than in the movies where two people kiss and fall backwards onto a bed holding each other just before the screen fades to black. (Example: "When most people left, Brad and Patrick went into Patrick's room. They had sex for the first time that night. I don't want to go into detail about it because it's pretty private stuff, but I will say that Brad assumed the role of the girl in terms of where you put things. I think that's pretty important to tell you. When they were finished, Brad started to cry really hard...") There a few sexual jokes. also non-descriptive, as jokes tend to be. a couple of brief descriptions of masturbation. There is kissing.
Really there are only three in-depth sexual scenes. The first is a flashback to when Charlie was younger and his older sister threw a party while their parents were away. She instructs Charlie to stay put in his room. Two drunken friends of his sister, a boy and a girl, stumble into his room and ask if they can use it. Charlie agrees. The girl and boy start making out, and eventually the boy forces the girl to perform oral sex on him. This scenario is only stopped when Charlie's sister comes in the room the bring Charlie some chips and the two get embarrassed and leave (pages 30-31). Charlie later, in the present, realizes what he witnessed was a rape (page 32).
Another is when Charlie and Mary Elizabeth make out and by the end of it they are both shirtless and have done "everything from the stomach up" but don't go any farther (pages 126-127).
The last is between Sam and Charlie in Sam's room. They make out, remove their shirts and stop when Sam touches his groin (on top of clothes) because it makes Charlie realize that his Aunt Helen sexually molested him when he was young (pages 202-205).
If anyone reads these passages and finds them sexually arousing, they need to talk with a counsellor. None of the truly sexual activity (i.e. aside from kissing) is approved of. It is all presented in a realistic way and the consequences are rarely good. Brad is the victim of homophobia-incited assault by his father when he catches Brad and Patrick having sex. Brad is extremely hurt by this and incites a homophobic attack on Patrick in the school cafeteria. Charlie's sister gets pregnant by her physically abusive boyfriend and has an abortion.
There is a lot of drug usage, a fair bit of underage drinking and underage smoking. This isn't condoned either, it made crystal clear this behaviour is completely unhealthy.
None of this behaviour; abuse, drinking, smoking, drugs, teenage sex, homophobia, is presented as a good thing. It is merely presented, and realistically. Whether we like or not, some teenagers have sex, do drugs, smoke, swear like sailors, drink and do hurtful things to others. You cannot control all teenagers your teen(s) come in contact with. Just as the way meteorologists cannot predict every little gust of wind to make a completely accurate forecast.
The only thing you can do is talk with your teen(s) and educate them on why drugs, underage drink, underage smoking, abusing others and doing sexual things before you are ready is bad and they can do to avoid these things and make good choices.
But not every teen has people in their life to tell them these things, or maybe they do but they make very human mistakes. That's why we need books like this, to tell teens there is a light at the end of the tunnel and if they can make the right choices, it won't be an oncoming train. This book does advocate good things: dating for love, reading, intelligence and friendships.
A lot of people argue that is isn't appropriate for children. It isn't appropriate for children. It isn't appropriate for children at all.
It is appropriate for TEENS alright? TEENS. Young Adults, youths, adolescents, teenyboppers. I thought we made this distinction a long time ago. and kids don't walk into the Young Adult section, but I'll cover this in a future post (a very near future post).
I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is well-written, beautifully told and is an important book. But I highly encourage you to read it and form your own opinion. Maybe you won't like it all. Maybe you'll think it's awful and would never let your kids read it. and that's okay. Because just as you don't have any right to restrict it from anyone's view, you have as much right to not like it and tell your kids it isn't acceptable in your house. If you got it from the library; return it. If you bought it; sell it, donate it, throw it out, turn it into avant-garde paper sculpture if you please.
(Just please don't burn it. It's stupid and if nothing else you're making yourself look like an ignorant moron.)
Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC
7 years ago