"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · wondermous · young adult lit

Chbosky’s Wallflower

22628the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

MTV Books/Pocket Books, 1999.

(213 pages)

I got a late start on Banned Books Week, but Tuesday I decided to read the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. According to the American Library Association, Chbosky’s novel was the 6th out of the top ten most frequently banned books of 2008.

Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group.

Of the plenty of often challenged and banned books on our shelves at home, both the grown-up shelves, and the children’s shelves, the perks was chosen with little effort. It is one of those “been meaning to”s for a while now. Doesn’t hurt that my husband Sean told me I would like it. And I did. I really really did.

the perks of being a wallflower is suited to my age group, and my generation. The letters in the book are written during a 1991-92 school year. Charlie is 15, and then turns 16 on the 24th of December. So I was a little younger, 13, but Sean was 15 in 1991, and a lot of the cultural references are really familiar.

I realize that the reason “unsuited to age group” has more to do with the YA group that it is marketed toward, or perhaps it is that they would find it the most interesting, and moving. I can be pretty squeamish censorial-wise: “age appropriate-ness” is definitely on my list of questions when reading anything classified YA or younger. I have a daughter that I cherish and desire strongly to protect. She’s 9 and has only just recently seen Star Wars. Now, saying all that, would I hide the book or dissuade her reading it until she is at the end or past her teens? No. And no, I am not a heathen. Though I think Natalya will always be able to read ahead of her age, maturity-wise, I wouldn’t put it on her shelf (as a loaner) until she is 15, entering high school.Nothing in this book is seen as encouraging (inducing), easy, or glamorous, not even heterosexuality–it is high school after all.

The other above listed reasons can be found in this book, content that can be found in a high school, though little of it I would wish her to participate in: least of all suicide. I believe that books are powerful, dangerously so, and wonderfully. This book is powerful. It is moving, and emotional, and heart-breaking–ly–influential. It is healing, and insightful. Charlie is an achingly beautiful character.

So much of the book is about fear and loneliness, and friendship and belonging. It is about family, and waking, and healing. I think this well-suited to YA. And it contains nothing shocking or unfamiliar: and I am not necessarily speaking in terms of a first-person-experience kind of familiarity. Many of the moments would more than likely be an “oh,” unknown, distant, but believable.

It is the author’s compassion in this book that is so striking, and necessary. It is necessary, and inescapable, and that is one of the most important reasons the book should be read–and certainly by YA, if you must know.

This book makes you laugh and cry and love people–love them so as to really see them.

I usually acknowledge that this book or that one would not be suited to everyone’s tastes. I am not going to say that here. Yes, my euphoria after reading the perks of being a wallflower has faded (mostly).I do think some of it may be lost on those who would challenge on the above listed reasons without considering that the content is intentional, and not gratuitous. What is humorous about the situation with the challenging/banning is that our Narrator/Letter Writer, Charlie, is sensitive and delicate and well-mannered. He is apologetic while at the same time desiring to be honest and clear. Really, the most uncomfortable are those things that are not being said (or listed above)…that no one can really talk about, when the expression is difficult in its– … if you’ve read the book, you know.

The format is intimate and accessible, and using the letters over a journal trope was genius here. The writer is looking to form a relationship, understanding it is the relationship that creates intimacy and change. There is the continual effort on Charlie’s part to “participate”. He (yes, as a character) is asking it of the reader as well, that the reader “participate”. It really is nice.

The other benefits of the read is the discussion about music. Charlie makes a tape for a friend and he lists the songs. Am going to play that song list this weekend.The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a character (and nice paralell intertextual play). And I like that there was the production of a Zine. Not sure if the story is actually placed. There are the Ohio cousins, but some of the things screamed NorthWest. The Zine, the music scene, University of Washington attendee and he will still be close.

Of interest: the questionably occuring content takes place amongst the upper middle class suburban set. Perhaps that is what makes it so threatening and offensive?

Charlie’s english teacher Bill lends him books to read and write about throughout the year. Love Bill. The book list, and finally the recommended films, wouldn’t be bad for a body to copy down and try following; though many are on most “coming of age” reading lists. I can see how some of those recommendations by the author (along with the songs) might make a challenger dig in, as many of the books are challenged/banned themselves. A recommended read to pair (and to be read first) or in general Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. It’s influence on the perks of being a wallflower is evident. If Salinger wasn’t/isn’t for you, don’t let that stand in the way of reading Chbosky’s book (it is just a recommendation).

Despite the heavy cultural references, this book, I hope will find a continual audience with each arriving generation, because it has a beautiful voice worth hearing–and I think, continually necessary.

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