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.


bermudaonion said...

I've been attracted to this book because it's been banned, but, after your review, I think I'll skip it.

Zibilee said...

After reading your review of this book, I am also not sure it would appeal to me. I think it might be something that my son might like when he's a little older, but I just don't really see myself enjoying it all that much. Though it wasn't a favorite with you, I do appreciate your reviewing it. It's important that we all know and expose ourselves to books that are being banned. Thanks!

Tasha said...

I loved this book the first time I read it. It was the first book I read just for me after graduating from college, and it was a magical experience. I read it for the second time a year or two ago, and while it didn't have quite the same appeal, I still have such fond memories of it. Timing has much to do with it, I guess!

Anonymous said...

glad you reviewed it, even if you didn't care much for it.

my husband had been recommending it for a while before i actually got to it (for banned books week last year). i had dismissed it as a boy book...but ended up really enjoying it.

i think Charley is right, that timing is a consideration with this one..

you know, i wonder if this one would have been fairly anonymous on the shelves now if it hadn't been banned. instead it has fast become iconic to ban along with 'catcher in the rye' and has joined 'catcher' as a canonized adolescent male read.


Anonymous said...

Thanks!for the review, it made up my mind about it.

Trisha said...

I remember really enjoying this one when I read it, but I have to admit the details of it escape me now. Sorry it didn't work for you!

Anonymous said...

I borrowed this book ages ago but abandoned it. Just couldn't get into the story.