The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written by American novelist Stephen Chbosky, and published in 1999 by MTV. The story is narrated by a teenager who goes by the alias of “Charlie,” who describes various segments of his life through a series of letters to an anonymous person. It is never revealed who this person is, or made clear if he knows them personally. Charlie is portrayed as an unconventional thinker, shy and unpopular.
The story takes place in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1991-1992 school year and explores such topics as introversion, teenage sexuality, homosexuality, abuse, and the general awkwardness of adolescence; it also touches on drug use through Charlie’s first-hand experiences.
Various works of literature and film are referenced and their meanings discussed as the novel progresses. Chbosky said J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was an inspiration, and pays homage by naming it as one of the books that Charlie’s English teacher gives him to read.
The book has been at the forefront of the American Library Association’s banned books list throughout the last decade and was third on the ALA’s list for 2009.
In 2003, it was challenged in Fairfax, VA school libraries by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools for “profanity, descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.”
In 2004 it was removed as a reading assignment in an elective sociology course at the Massapequa High School in New York because of its “offensive content.”
2005 challenges include the Montgomery County Memorial Library System in Texas along with 15 other young adult books with gay themes by the Library Patrons of Texas; it was retained after a challenge in the Merton, WI Arrowhead High School curriculum as optional reading.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction sent a letter to principals and district superintendents in 2006 asking them to make sure that the book was no longer available to minors or “any other students.”
It was also kept on the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 reading list in Arlington Heights, IL along with eight other challenged titles in 2007. A newly-elected school board member raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the Internet. Chbosky’s novel received most of the criticism for its references to masturbation, homosexuality, and bestiality.
Then in 2008 it was disputed on the Commack High School (NY) summer reading list because the novel contains a two-page rape scene.
Last year, citing homosexuality, drug use and sexual behavior, it was removed from Portage High School classrooms in Indiana; and challenged as part of a four-month campaign by the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries to move fiction and nonfiction books from the young adult section to the adult section and label them as containing sexual material at the West Bend Community Memorial Library in Wisconsin. The group called the book “obscene child pornography.” The library’s board unanimously voted 9-0 to maintain, “without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting” access to the book in the YA section.
A Wyoming, OH high school district’s suggested reading list was challenged in the same year, as well as the William Byrd and Hidden Valley high schools in Roanoke, VA. Freshman and sophomores now need parental permission to check out the book, whereas juniors and seniors do not have the restriction.
It was among a staggering 58 books that parents in Fayetteville, Arkansas petitioned to have removed from school libraries in 2004. The parents, who formed Parents Protecting the Minds of Children, objected to the profane language and depictions of sexuality in many of the books and have accused the librarians and other opponents of efforts to promote a “homosexual agenda.”
PPMC says the issues are children’s safety and a parent’s right to decide what is appropriate for their child; while on the other end of the debate, residents- many of whom are avid readers- oppose any attempt to disrupt the free flow of information from school libraries.
Laurie Taylor, a mother of two teenage daughters, stands as the voice of the PPMC and says, “We filter the Internet, we rate movies, we rate television; we should be screening literature.” Taylor is now home schooling her daughters and maintains that the books encourage children to experiment in casual sex, and promotes homosexuality, and other behavior she considers deviant.
“These books are not educational in content; they are biased sexual rhetoric, and instructional sexual pandering to children.”
Taylor has readily admitted she has not read all of the books on the group’s list. “I don’t have to read an entire book to decide if it is pornographic to me,” she said.
Challenges nationwide are on the rise in recent years.
Pat Scales, director of library services for the Governor’s School for the Arts in Greenville, S.C., is author of “Teaching Banned Books,” and a noted resource for the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.
Scales said the list of books under consideration in Fayetteville is similar to lists appearing on numerous group websites, including PABBS and American Family Association.
Scales’ advises that if a student brings a questionable book home from school to “make it a teachable moment. Children will not learn sympathy and empathy if they don’t understand how others live. Reading about child abuse, for example, is not illegal; abusing children is,” Scales said.
“The entire community is not just the religious right,” she said. “You cannot just have one view in a library.”
Sources: American Library Association, The Morning News (FAYETTEVILLE), Marshall University
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions