Monday, March 14, 2011

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

When you first approach and start reading this book, you wonder if it could be written any more simply; however, as you read further, you can see very clearly how teens can relate to the protagonist's feelings, thoughts and dilemmas. I had it on a list of to-reads for a while before finally stumbling upon it at my campus library, and I devoured it in two days. It moves quickly, but there is much more than just words.

Charlie is a naive teenager who is struggling a bit in school and also struggling to find his way in life. He's not very well-known, and he ends up floating around and meeting two step-siblings, Sam and Patrick. Through the book, which is composed of Charlie's letters to an anonymous "friend," we witness Charlie's growth into their hard-partying, misfit circle and also his coming of age, replete with drug experiments, first dates and first loves. We also learn about Charlie's past; his only friend committed suicide shortly before Charlie went into high school, and his aunt Helen has also passed of causes that Charlie refuses to talk about. To cope, he hangs out with Sam and Patrick (who we find out is gay), who perform in a rendering of Rocky Horror, reads books his English teacher Bill assigns to him on the side, and listens to music by the Smiths, Nirvana and other artists.

The book explores many topics- abortion, abusive relationships, drugs and alcohol, feminism and radicalism, suicide, homosexuality and its stigma in society. At the end, we find that Charlie has to be committed to a mental hospital for some time after sinking back into memories of his aunt Helen and what killed her. However, even with all of this in his path and in our own minds as readers, he (and we) both emerge from the conclusion with a positive notion, one that assures us that everything will be okay after all.

Of course, thanks to all of the "taboos" that Wallflower tackles, it has been removed from Portage (IN) High School classrooms, challenged at the West Bend Community Library in Wisconsin for containing "child pornography", and restricted in high school in Wyoming and Virginia to juniors and seniors, even though Charlie begins writing his letters in the novel as a freshman. As if teens don't go through all of these changes, all of these growing pains, and they don't face situations like these while growing up. Also, it was challenged in Montgomery County (TX) Memorial Library System along with 15 other young adult books with gay positive themes by the Library Patrons of Texas. Good old Texas, still convinced that homosexuality is sin and unnatural. Well, I've got news for you guys: it isn't. Get over it.

While I believe that kids should at least be guided while reading books such as Wallflower and shouldn't be given material like this at too young an age, I'm also of the opinion that kids can never be too young to learn about life. There are young people out there who already do this and more, in real life. That is not fiction, or a movie that one can turn off. Chbosky certainly didn't pull all of these storylines out of his own head- obviously, things like these are taken from real-life experiences or stories from others. We must stop assuming that things like this don't happen in our society, because they do.

Read this book and take heed.

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