In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out the ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?
I am so excited to share one of my favorite books with you this week. Although it has a loyal following, many people have not heard of this highly decorated book. Could it be because The Perks of Being a Wallflower
(POBAW) is one of the most frequently challenged books of the past decade? Perhaps.
The story unfolds in letters written by protagonist Charlie to a mystery person during the course of his freshman year of high school. Charlie, an introvert, has been prone to bouts of depression and anxiety ever since the death of his favorite aunt many years ago. After Charlie’s one and only friend commits suicide, Charlie must face the scary halls of his new school alone, shy and grieving.
While Charlie does not speak much and prefers to be a “wallflower,” he is a keen observer. His reflections are honest, sensitive, and for the most part, without agenda or bias. Still, he is tremendously perplexed by life. Because he has always focused on those around him, Charlie understands shockingly little about himself.
But all this is about to change. When a teacher recognizes the genius in Charlie, he refuses to let him continue through life as a passive observer. In addition to assigning extra books packed with lessons about living life, the teacher encourages Charlie to interact with others. After Charlie meets popular Samantha and Patrick, they soon discover that there is much more to this overlooked wallflower than meets they eye. With their guidance, Charlie begins to meet more people and have new experiences he never even imagined. Once Charlie begins to truly live his life with passion, he is able to make friends, enrich his family relationships, and come to terms with some very big issues.
What makes this book a masterpiece (in my opinion!) is its accurate portrayal of adolescence through Charlie’s eyes. His observations are so honest that they seem almost childlike and at times, achingly beautiful. While there are some teen books in which the author artificially injects controversial scenes just for shock value, this is not one of those books (but those shouldn’t be banned either!). Content that is “objectionable” should be considered within the context of the story. For example, teens in POBAW do experiment with drugs and alcohol, but this behavior is far from glorified and some tragic consequences occur as a result. Taking things out of context is a dangerous thing — you kind of miss the big picture.
Pulling this book off the shelves eliminates the opportunity for young readers to learn from Charlie’s open-minded observations about other people’s struggles; his sister’s struggle to respect herself, a friend’s struggle to be accepted as a homosexual, his parents’ struggle not to pass on the mistakes their own parents made. The importance of being loved and accepted for who you are is a universal theme that any one of us can relate to, boy or girl, teen or adult, wallflower or not. After all, don’t we want our teens to be reading books they can relate to? Not only will they be more interested, they may also absorb valuable lessons that could help move their lives forward in a positive direction.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
is a well-written, empathetic account of an outcast’s first year of high school, which, by the way, turns out well and has a happy ending in which Charlie triumphs. Isn’t that exactly what we want our kids to be reading? But even if it’s not, please don’t make that choice for me.
Come back tomorrow to hear from award-winning author Walter Dean Myers. If you’ve missed any of the BBW 2012 series, you can find it all right here.