Saturday, December 12, 2009

Perks of Being a Wallflower

I avoided reviewing The Perks of Being a Wallflower for quite some time.  Based on the descriptions circulated on the internet by the would-be censors, this book is supposed to be unspeakably filthy, and I just didn't want to deal with it.  They claim it contains foul language, sex, molestation, drug use, rape, violence, bestiality, suicide, homosexuality, etc. etc.

And it's all true.  Well...... sort of.

Stephen Chbosky's book is a gritty and real-world look at the lives of 15-to-17-year-olds.  The book is a series of intimate letters written by a young man who is struggling to understand both himself and the society around him.  In addition to the usual awkwardness of the teenage years, Charlie has some specific emotional problems that make it harder for him to understand himself and others.  Identifying and resolving some of those issues is a central theme of the book.

While many parents are in frank denial about this, the teenage world in the book is quite real.  It involves school, cliques, dating, preparing for college, and the like.  It also includes parties, sex, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.  The teenage characters live in a world of choices that is at times overwhelming, and they don't always make the right decisions.  While the book leads the reader to understand, even to sympathize, nothing in the book glorifies those mistakes: actions have their consequences.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is no more lurid or raw than scores of other books aimed at the 15-and-over age group.  It's treatment by censors would make it seem that this book is unusually or especially objectionable, but that is simply not the case. This is one more in a long list of examples in which one parent describes what he or she found objectionable, and then ignores any and all literary value, reducing the book to just the objectionable details.  Taken out of context, the objectionable details become a lopsided and misleading description of the book, and that lopsided description then gets repeated endlessly and uncritically by people who don't read.

I have to caution Free Speech advocates not to jump to the conclusion that all the claims of the censors are at best exaggerations, and more often simple lies.  Sooner or later, if only by accident, something a censor claims to be obscene or harmful to minors will turn out actually to be so. I just haven't found one yet.  We have to read to verify their claims because that is the one thing they are the least likely to do themselves.


  1. I liked Perks, it's gritty and sometimes harsh but real and honest and I like that.

    I love how censors say it "condones" all the things you mentioned above. Did they read the whole book or just the "objectionable" bits? If you want consequences in a YA book Perks has plenty to spare.

    I can see why people might not like it, it is pretty raw at some points. But don't like, don't read. Open and shut case.

  2. I find myself increasingly exasperated with the reading (or non-reading) habits of the censors. They'll plow through endless webpages supporting a censorious position, and read multiple descriptions about why book x or book y should be kept from children, etc. But somehow never manage to read the challenged book. And in the rare cases in which they did read the challenged book, they would't have read other books in the same genre, so don't know how the challenged book compares to others.

    I'm beginning to think that the censorious among us all have some kind of page-count limit build into them: stop reading at page 10!

  3. I feel that way often as well. And I very much enjoy your sarcasm :)!

    One has to wonder how they came to be in such a way. A big sociological study could be done on that. It makes me think of the time long ago in grade 9 when a fellow classmate asked about Twelfth Night: "Um, doesn't this book promote transvestitation?" I was so dumbstruck I couldn't even laugh.