Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Published 1999 by MTV Books. Fiction.

Remember on Sunday when I said that I love The Smiths as much as anyone but a little teen angst goes a long way? Well, I'm glad I hadn't gotten far in The Perks of Being a Wallflower at the time because the main character Charlie loves The Smiths. He quotes them; he makes mix tapes for his best friend with the Smiths song "Asleep" at the beginning and at the end. He relates to their sensitive lyrics. And he talks about The Smiths, a lot.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary written by a high school freshman, the aforementioned Charlie, to an unnamed recipient. Charlie is experimenting with love, life, drugs and relationships, as many teenagers do. He's successful in school and seems to be popular; lots of friends float in and out of the story, and his parents are well-meaning if relatively ineffectual, as many parents are. Author Stephen Chbosky has Charlie write in a choppy style that I'm sure is supposed to sound adolescent, and it does, but it's a little hard to believe he's the genius his teachers say he is.

Anyway the stories he relates are soap-opera interesting and chock full of drama and dysfunction. Charlie spends most of the book drunk, high, or clueless as he blunders his way through relationships, friendships, school and family life. Along the way he witnesses a rape, helps his sister get an abortion, and goes to a late-night cruising spot with his gay friend Patrick where he runs into a local news reporter and outs him. He makes some social faux pas with his girlfriend Mary Elizabeth and pines after Patrick's sister Sam. He reads a lot.

All I can say about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, it's a quick read and pretty straightforward. It's #3 on ALA's Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009 and shows up often on other lists of challenged books. You can see the Fayetteville, Arkansas' challenge here; they didn't like the portrayal of gay sex, drug references, masturbation, and so forth.

As books go I thought it was pretty mediocre; the story was bland and the characterizations ran together, and the writing was, shall we say, easy to skim. I think it's important to read banned and challenged books not only to promote reading and literacy generally but to be educated about the conversations going on in society at large and I can see reading Perks for that reason. But I think if you're looking for a high-quality novel for and about young adults, there are probably better options out there.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.