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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week

Check out Nikki's post for full celebration deets.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

You won’t find me comparing this book to The Catcher in the Rye. Oh, comparisons can certainly be drawn (and have been, almost ad nauseam). Why? Because my name is Caitlin, I hold a Bachelor of Science in English Literature, and...


Phew. It’s finally off my chest. In fact, as come of age stories about boys go, I much prefer the woefully UNDERrated A Separate Peace.

My friend Carolyn routinely comes to visit me toting large boxes of books. She puts stickers in the ones she wants back and I throw the rest onto paperback swap when I’m done. It’s a fool-proof system. She introduced me to this book years ago when we were living together. “Here, read this, I think you’ll like it”…it was a highlighted, dog eared copy with strict instructions this was one she wanted back. Obviously this negated the need for the aforementioned sticker system. I flipped through it, and the quotes she’d highlighted immediately stood out. “I feel infinite” was the first one I saw. I turned to page one and was off to the races.


The story in and of itself is very simple. I like things to happen in my books. I like court dramas, murder mysteries, horror novels, and the occasional chick lit. Character studies don’t do much for me. However, the simplicity of this story works highly in its favor. At its core, it’s a story about “Charlie” finding his place in the world. He begins high school confused about who he is and what his roll is in his own life. He’s recently reeling from the suicide of his middle school friend and the death of his favorite aunt. To help sort things out, he begins to write letters to an anonymous “friend” who he heard was nice. The entire school year unfolds throughout, and the reader is let into Charlie’s world. He’s the youngest of three, with a football star brother and a sister who has enough issues to make her own book (I would totally read that). He’s an outsider looking in, reticent but ready. His English teacher takes a special interest in him and gives him extra credit books to read, so he spends most of his time going through those. There’s a boy in his shop class who seems very nice to everyone, and they get to talking at a football game. Patrick and his stepsister Sam become Charlie’s near constant companions, and he’s pleased as punch about it. Charlie develops a near epic crush on Sam almost instantly and feels terrible about it. With the help of friends, Charlie goes to parties, drinks, smokes, becomes enamored with and eventually a part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show crowd, and generally has a pretty good time discovering there’s a life apart from being a wallflower.

*Non-spoiler alert*

I want anyone who reads this book to come at it with fresh eyes. Without giving too much away, Charlie and his friends deal with domestic violence, homosexuality, sexuality in general, physical and sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, depression, and suicide. I realize putting it all together in one sentence like that makes it sound like the most over the top afterschool special/lifetime movie/soap opera hybrid in the world, but it’s the point of view that makes it worthwhile. Charlie looks at all of these as an outsider, even the ones that directly involve him. He’s like the photographer that lets the lion eat the gazelle instead of stepping in, because that’s how life goes. The writing is engaging, and riddled with anecdotes, one liners, and totally highlight-able quotes that unfold the story as if you were the “friend” Charlie is writing to. Some people have said there’s a twist ending to the book, one you won’t see coming, and that it’s kind of a cheap ending designed to play on emotion. I don’t agree. By the end, you are emotionally involved with almost all the characters, and what happens in their respective arcs matters.

*Why is the book so challenged? *

The depictions are real. Not fact based, but there’s not a lot that gets sugar coated. Charlie says “penis.” He describes oral sex, gay sex, and sexual abuse in frank terms. There’s swearing, drug use, masturbation, drinking, and other horrors.

*So what?*

Newsflash. High school aged kids swear, smoke, drink, and copulate. Not all of them, but a solid faction. If anything, this book puts all that into perspective. It doesn’t matter if you hung out in the basement or were homecoming queen. Every teenager has had self esteem issues, self doubt, self hate, and moments of self love (high self esteem wise, not diddling your diddle, though that also happens). This book speaks to that. It reinforces that it’s ok to fall down, it’s ok to experiment, and it’s ok to let out what you’re feeling. These are lessons that are important for teenagers to learn. This book resonates with the high school crowd. I was in my early 20’s the first time I read it and it certainly resonated with me, so much so that I now own my own (ha) highlighted copy. Look how much it affected these fine folks here and here <--- tattoo pictures that wouldn't load to the post properly, totally SFW.

This is a book that needs to stay in the system, and stay relevant. If Catcher in the Rye and even A Separate Peace can do it, this should round out the trifecta.


  1. I knew it. I said to myself, "If I do this banned book challenge and then read the posts other people create, I know I'm going to end up reading a review of a book that I will want to read. I just know it."

    I was right. Thankfully my library has a copy of the book which I have already put on reserve. (See my priorities apparently are lust first, greed second, and generosity in the form of a comment last and clearly least.)

    Oh, and I empathize with you re. Catcher in the Rye which I read as a teenager and then later as an adult. Didn't "get it" either time but then I can say the same for A Separate Peace which, although I liked it more, still didn't like well enough. Certainly not as much as you have. I hope you'll forgive me. (Feel free to forgive me after you lust and greed over something else though. No need to shuffle your priorities on my behalf.)

    Thanks for this review. I truly look forward to reading the book.

  2. I read this book in high school because I kept hearing how great it was and the title intrigued me. I was a shy unpopular kid at school and thought I would really like the book and be able to relate to the main character. I have to say that I was greatly disappointed. The kid was not what I would call a wallflower and I didn't like all the drug use and sex in it. I found it hard to relate to. Plus, I had a hard time believing that a senior girl would be interested in a freshman. Maybe the other way around though. I wouldn't want my kids to read it, but I wouldn't stop other people from reading it and don't think it should be banned. That being said, great review and I'm sure there are plenty of books I enjoyed that you can't stand. I remember loving The Catcher in the Rye when I was 16. 10 years later I would like to re-read and see if my opinion has changed.

  3. I tend to agree with the part about Charlie not being a stereotypical wallflower. Maybe just a late bloomer. He seemed fine once he got a stable group of friends, although his history and "secret" he's carrying around skew his normal life a bit. I was actually afraid I wouldn't relate to the characters, because my high school experience was fairly..good, by most people's standards I guess. I had a lot of friends. I was kind of a bitch, actually. As for the senior with a freshamn thing, I dated a sophomore my senior year. He dumped me at homecoming and I left him at the dance and went to a party because he didn't drive. I'm guessing it doesn't happen often, but I'm sure it does.

    I'm not a mom, so I can't really say what I'd give my hypothetical kids to read. On one hand, I'd say whatever gets them reading is good, but I don't know where people draw the line with that. People say that about Twilight and comic books, and while they might not have the best redeeming values, at least it's reading. I think if my kids were older I'd be fine with them reading it, and encourage discussion about it.

    I might have to give Catcher in the Rye antoehr chance. It's been almost 4 years, but I really just don't think it's for me.