The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Banned Books)

banned books

Every month for the rest of 2014 ChrissiReads, Bibliobeth & I (aka Luna’s Little Library) will be reading a Banned or Challenged Book.

We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged. How/If things have changed since the book was originally published. What we actually think of the book.

If you’d like to joining in there is a list of the books we’ll be reading at the bottom of this post.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

First published: 1st February 1999
Still in the Top Ten of Frequently Challenged Books in 2013 (source)
Chosen by: ChrissiReads
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

About the book: Charlie is a freshman.
And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his year yet socially awkward,he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.


Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: The book was published in 1999 and it’s fair to say that by that time we were a much more open society about things like drugs and sexuality, especially things that were shown in the media at that time for example the increased sexual content in music videos etc. However, I can also see why at that time it was challenged as the book does tend to stray into risky territory with a lot of potentially taboo issues. I think if at that time I had been studying it for English GCSE, I would have been fairly shocked – not by the content, but that the school was “brave” enough to be allowing us to study it!

CHRISSI: I completely understand why it would be challenged when it was originally published. The way I see it is that it deals with some very intense issues. If you’re using it at a school… even from 14+ , it’s a very touchy subject to actually teach. I completely understand that teenagers need to know about these issues, but in a way, I think a book like The Perks Of Being A Wallflower isn’t the best educational tool.

LUNA: Ahm… actually no. When the book was first published I was 14, nearly 15 – so the audience for this novel. While The Perks of Being a Wallflower does have a lot of “issues” none of them, in my opinion, are explored in any great detail. They just get a surface mention. Yes there is some swearing and yes I accept that drugs, abuse (physical and/or sexual) are though subjects but the book doesn’t really go into them. It’s certainly not anywhere near as graphic as I expected given that Perks is still in the top 10 of challenged books in 2013. Thinking of my teenage self and what I knew from my peers, TV and also what I was reading I would not have been shocked.

How about now?

BETH: I’m really not sure! I think it would take a strong person to challenge the current curriculum and bring in books that may deal with darker issues like Perks. I honesty can’t imagine any teacher standing in front of a class and talking about Charlie’s discovery of masturbation or the scene in which he watches a couple participate in some (ahem!) sexual acts. Saying that, it would be terrific if the curriculum included some books that were a bit risky, even just to test the water. I think also that schools have to be careful to respect parents wishes, and some children may be brought up with certain beliefs, religious issues that may be easily offended by books such as this. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why a safe middle ground is chosen?

CHRISSI: I don’t think my views have changed that much. From working in education, I can see why teacher’s would find this difficult to use as a teaching tool. However, I do think it’s important that children learn about the issues that Perks covers in a sensitive manner. I’m just not sure that Perks is the right piece of literature for it. I also imagine the parents would kick up all sorts of fuss about it. With the movie being fairly new out, perhaps it will become more acceptable in time.

LUNA: Still no. Ignoring what I’ve previously there are two main reasons why challenging/banning The Perks of Being a Wallflower makes no sense to me.

1) The reasons “drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group” are already represented the books being thought, both in the UK and the US. I spend quite a bit of time researching the reading list for GCSE (UK) and High School (US) and while they didn’t always match some authors kept reappearing: William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, William Golding just to name a few.

Classic Literature is full of unhealthy relationships, sex, violence and drug abuse. Sherlock Holmes probably the most famous drug user that comes to mind.

Shakespeare’s plays cover pretty much every ‘reason’ The Perks of Being a Wallflower was/is being challenged. Romeo and Juliet has teenage sex, plenty of violence and suicide. For unhealthy relationship (you could probably argue that Romeo and Juliet belong in there) there is an abundance of choice. How about Othello? Jealous husbands strangles his wife. For cross-dressing and gay themes: Twelfth Night. (Btw I don’t agree that “homosexuality” should ever be a reason for challenging/banning a book. That’s a whole different rant…)

My point is that the difference between those books and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the language. They are classics and taught throughout schools yet because Perks is modern it’s challenged? Shakespeare is pretty graphic so why is that ok but a modern book dealing with similar themes worse?

2) I think that grown-ups have a tendency to underestimate teenagers. They are young adults, not children. There is still growing to do but pushing stuff aside won’t make it not be there. Books are a great door to discussion. While I’m sure that there will be giggles during Charlie’s ‘I’ve discovered masturbation letter’ that will be the minority. I believe much more of the time will be spent talking about the important issues in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and books like this.

What did you think of the book?

BETH: I went into this book with no expectations as when it was first published I mis-judged it without knowing what the story was about. After reading it and reflecting on it, I thought I was going to enjoy it more when I first started, but thought it was a really interesting read about the perils we all face when becoming an adult. I loved Charlie’s voice in the novel and enjoyed that it was written in the form of letters as it was nice to read something a bit different.

CHRISSI: I didn’t like it as much as when I read it the first time. I mean, it’s an easy enough read, but I don’t exactly ‘get’ why it has the hype it does. In a way, reading it as a few years later… I feel it’s trying to shock the reader with all of the issues.

LUNA: Despite my impassioned argument for why I don’t agree with the reasons Perks being banned/challenged I actually didn’t enjoy reading the book. It took me nearly two weeks of stop and start to get through it, which is unheard of.

I think I had much too high expectations going in and because none of the issues were really explored in detail I felt rather let down.  Shockingly I preferred the film.

Would you recommend it?

BETH: Yes, I think I would. I think because of the issues it deals with it will remain a book that people will still be talking about in twenty years time.

CHRISSI: Yes. I do think it’s a book that everyone should at least try at one point in their lives. Even if it’s just to say they’ve read it.

LUNA: Not sure. I think there are many books that deal with the subjects better.

What are your thoughts?
Should The Perks of Being a Wallflower be banned/challenged?
Are the themes inappropriate?
As a teen does / would the content shock you?

Banned Book Reading List for 2014

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Chosen by: Luna

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Chosen by: Beth

Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks (as “Anonymous”)
Chosen by: Chrissi

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Chosen by: Luna

Lush by Natasha Friend
Chosen by: Beth


Next Book:
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Join in the discussion!

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11 thoughts on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Banned Books)

  1. I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed it. However, as a current senior in high school I can say that this would not be an effective teaching tool, at least at my school. Even though we are practically adults, I know that there are students in my class that would not be mature enough to respectfully discuss this in a classroom setting with a teacher. But I do think it’s an excellent teaching tool for people to pick up and read on their own.
    Anyways, great feature! 🙂

    1. Thanks Holly, that’s really interesting.
      Thinking about the students in my class I know that certain parts in the book would have ended up with half the class in chaos but then I remembered that if my old ‘old’ teacher had been in charge no one would have dared.

  2. I read this book when l was a freshman in high school, l was 14 at the time. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book mostly because l had a hard time understanding it. After reading your post and now that l’m older (l’m almost 21) l realize maybe l should give it another go. Thanks, and great post!

  3. I admit I haven’t read this book (or seen the movie–though I want to), but I really don’t think any books should be banned for those reasons (back in 1999–when I was 16–or now).

  4. Very interesting discussion! I read this book a few years ago not knowing about the hype that surrounded it (back then I really wasn’t talking to people about books and came across a copy of Perks at a used book sale) or the themes that were featured in the story. It was a bit of a shock not knowing to expect that, but I had read plenty of other books with such themes before and I found Perks to be very interesting and an easy read while the ending took me completely by surprise. Despite really liking it, I’m not quite sure why there is such hype around it. Yes, it is a very good book, but I feel like there are so many other very good books published before and after that don’t get nearly enough attention.

    I also just got a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so I may join you guys in September!

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