Two hours ago, I finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky. It’s been on my radar for awhile now, but I just haven’t had the freedom to make much progress on my list of books for pleasure reading as of late.
With the likes of Megan Cox Gurdon and her infamous article about the dangers of contemporary YA fiction, it should come as no surprise that The Perks of Being a Wallflower landed itself among the top ten on ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list for the 2000-2009 decade. (Read an earlier post I wrote about Gurdon’s article.)
Sherman Alexie, author of the YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, said in an article for WSJ titled, Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood:
Does Mrs. Gurdon honestly believe that a sexually explicit YA novel might somehow traumatize a teen mother? Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?
In which Gurdon responded with the following in her second article on the subject:
No, I don’t. I also don’t believe that the vast majority of American teenagers live in anything like hell. Adolescence can be a turbulent time, but it doesn’t last forever and often—leaving aside the saddest cases—it feels more dramatic at the time than it will in retrospect. It is surely worth our taking into account whether we do young people a disservice by seeming to endorse the worst that life has to offer.
My own thoughts? I don’t believe that by publishing “edgy” fiction for young adults that adults or society is “endors[ing] the worst that life has to offer.” In the case of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie experiences a range of events in which I personally encountered while in high school including the suicide of a classmate and dating violence.I loved the book and found it to be powerful, perspicacious, and moving. In fact, I wish I would’ve read it back when it was first published in 1999 as it would’ve given me much comfort during such a tumultuous time in my life. (The crazy part: Back in the day, I likely shelved it many times while working as a Page at Oxford Public Library.) I believe that YA has the power to save hence my support of the YA Saves Project.
My favorite passage:
“And we could all sit around and wonder and feel bad about each other and blame a lot of people for what they did or didn’t do or what they didn’t know. I don’t know. I guess there could always be someone to blame. Maybe if my grandfather didn’t hit her, my mom wouldn’t be so quiet. And maybe she wouldn’t have married my dad because he doesn’t hit her. And maybe I would never have been born, so I don’t know what to say about it all especially since my mom seems happy with her life, and I don’t know what else there is to want.
It’s like if I blamed my aunt Helen, I would have to blame her dad for hitting her and the friend of the family that fooled around with her when she was little. And the person that fooled around with him. And God for not stopping all this and things that are much worse. And I did do that for a while, but then I just couldn’t anyone. Because it wasn’t going anywhere. Because it wasn’t the point.
I’m not the way I am because of what I dreamt and remembered about my aunt Helen. That’s what I figured out when things got quiet. And I think that’s very important to know. It made things feel clear and together. Don’t get me wrong. I know what happened was important. And I need to remember it….So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them (pp 210-211).”
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.
“And I guess I realized at that moment that I really did love her. Because there was nothing to gain, and that didn’t matter.”
I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and then make the choice to share it with other people. Maybe that is what makes people ‘participate.’
“I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
I just want you to know that you’re very special… and the only reason I’m telling you is that I don’t know if anyone else ever has.
“I just hope I remember to tell my kids that they are as happy as I look in my old photographs. And I hope that they believe me.”
I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. 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, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.
And I leave you with one of my favorite censorship quotes by Lester Asheim:
“Selection seeks to protect the right of the reader to read; censorship seeks to protect—not the right—but the reader from himself from the fancied effects of his reading. The selector has faith in the intelligence of the reader; the censor has faith only in his own.”
Here’s a playlist of songs I put together from the book — “Charlie’s Mixtape”