You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

perks of being a wallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

In a recent banned book news roundup, I linked to an article about a Florida high school teacher who innocently picked up a young adult novel and was shocked by what she read:

“It was a book that I had never heard of before. When I pre-read this book, I found that it was full of questionable, age-inappropriate material, including a lot of oral sex, bestiality and things of that nature.”

The novel, of course, is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” frequently challenged, protested, placed on restricted reading lists, and sometimes banned since its publication in 1999. I’m neither a teacher nor a young adult, but I’ve heard of it. In fact I’ve been hearing about it for at least a decade and have long wanted to read it. The Florida teacher’s comment prompted me to finally get a copy.

The Marshall Libraries web site summarizes nearly two decades’ worth of attempts to restrict or ban the book. Note that these are just the attempts that made the news, and that most local fights over banning or restricting books go unreported. What do opponents object to? A partial list includes:

  • Profanity and torture
  • Gay positive themes
  • A two-page rape scene
  • Depictions of homosexuality, drug use, sexual behavior
  • Bestiality
  • Smoking
  • Masturbation
  • Drinking
  • Arousing graphic descriptions
  • Abortion and LSD
  • Bad role model characters

Protesters at school board meetings regularly describe the novel as disgusting trash, and as book-banning rhetoric ramps up, as child pornography, part of a leftist plot to lure children into lives of depravity, addiction, deviant sex, and transgenderism. One grandmother stood up at a school board meeting to say she worried boys would read the date rape scene and try to re-create it with her granddaughter! Talk about grooming! Bad stuff indeed!

How bad is it? Here’s a brief snippet:

Screen Shot 2022-10-13 at 6.29.56 AM
Page 157, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

To set the scene, Patrick and the narrator Charlie are driving in a car, swapping tales about legendary high school characters of the past. Barry the vandal. Chip the bug killer. C.B. the wanna-be dog fucker. Action Jack the jack-off. Patrick, openly gay, is himself on the path of becoming a legend to future students. So is Charlie, who’s regarded by most of his classmates as a weirdo.

If you’re the kind of person who gets aroused by any of this, I don’t think I want to know you. And just to be clear, the short reference to C.B.’s drunken attempt to fuck a dog is the full extent of the bestiality so often cited by people who haven’t read the book. It’s always that way: a character in a young adult novel so much as mentions or has a thought about a thing and as far as book-banners are concerned the entire book is about that thing.

Not that there isn’t plenty of shit going on in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Charlie, a high school freshman who comes across as intelligent, observant, oddly passive, and perhaps slightly autistic — the wallflower of the title — falls in with a group of seniors and spends the school year learning from and doing things with them: socializing, driving around, drinking, smoking tobacco and weed, having sex (which Charlie merely observes until late in the book, and then not fully due to being sexually abused in his pre-teen years).

So yeah, there’s drinking and drug use and sex, like in pretty much every young adult novel. Charlie’s older sister gets pregnant and he takes her to the abortion clinic. Someone gives Charlie LSD at a party and he has an unpleasant trip. Early in the book, Charlie watches as his sister’s boyfriend forces her to have sex, only later realizing it was rape. Patrick, openly gay, has a secret homosexual relationship with the closeted quarterback of the football team. The girl Charlie loves, Patrick’s step-sister Sam, eventually tries to stamp his passport, but that’s when Charlie’s repressed memories of Aunt Helene abusing him as a child come flooding back and he suffers a breakdown.

What do middle- and high-school kids talk and think about? I’m betting it isn’t Jesus and saving themselves for marriage. What kind of books do young adults read? What kind of shenanigans do they get up to?

All the things the kids in this book think about and get up to. And you know it. We’ve all been there.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it seems to me, is well within the mainstream of contemporary young adult literature. It depicts the things kids are interested in without glorifying them. It’s message is a moral one, not preachy but realistic in depicting the consequences of drinking, drug use, promiscuity, and selfish behavior. It offers recognition, affirmation, and support to kids who’ve been the victims of child sexual abuse and incest (of which there are many, far more than we want to think about). And Charlie and (most of) his friends? They’re going to turn out all right. Like you did. Like I did. What was I reading when I was 14? Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” one of the many adult books Charlie’s English teacher, Bill, challenges him with.

Which all goes to explain the popularity of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Ban away, teabaggers, homophobes, frightened grandmothers, and bluenoses, kids aren’t going to stop reading it, nor should they.

8 thoughts on “You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  • We are in a culture war. People have the right and duty, in my view, to attempt toe make sure their children follow in their moral an cultural path. Some think the education of their children is open to influence by any forces that happen to get leverage enough to make it happen. Those people and me are on opposite sides of the barricade in this culture war. Once adults, the die is cast and they will do what they decide to do, but as children ,the parents don’t have to yield to allow any school or society forces that political and cultural elements of society have instantiated in the public square. You are yourself are squeamish at admitting the forces in this literature into your own pleasure zone. Why is that? At some level, you understand what is going on but can’t admit it, as it violates some cannon of libertine left wing doctrine that you must embrace to be seen as enlightened.

  • MP, you’re correct in that I’ve expressed discomfort with taking children to drag queen story hours at public libraries. I spelled out my thoughts here: I’ve also expressed the opinion that nonbinary personal pronouns are silly, and refuse to use them. There’s definitely some silliness on the libertine left wing, and I don’t embrace it.

    That’s not the same as advocating book banning. I’ve always been clear on where I stand on that. Hail Satan!

  • Book banning in a school library is not equivalent to banning in general. Why would you conflate the two?
    Book banning by the federal government might mean going into book stores and burning all books on the index, but in this age, book banning can be done by pressure on private entities in the media or publishing so that the effect is the same, with a silk glove rather than a mailed fist, just more sophisticated and in tune with how things are done in the US. There are politically sensitive books and websites and blogs, that are only available overseas, and not on a any US platform because the narrative conflicts with a line drawn by powerful forces that can make this kind of thing happen and punish transgressions. I am an absolutist too when it comes to scholarly discourse but the country will have to be broken up or re-organized if the federal (or state )government insists on the right to indoctrinate perform medical procedures on our children counter to our will. That is the principal at stake here, not book banning (or ideal banning) in general or on line. In my local library, there are lots of books by Michael Mann and Al Gore … about global warming. where is the other side presented? Where are books by Dr. William Happer or nobel lauriate Freeman Dyson about the warming issues? The media from Wikipedia has a very non balanced presentation of theses kind of issues, (google “whats up with that”) as does my local school board and local library, and those custodians of the culture that our children are exposed to. It’s a war and the freedom of the press issue, when it comes to the public and school board issues and education, is definitely a bastion of the left, built from up from years of left wing bias in the education and universities. And now to being denounced out as a book banner by people who have a aggressive social and political agenda contrary to mine, on the grounds of being , i guess, a prude, well its hard to bear sometimes. The country is TOO big for a national consensus of this nature, and maybe its time for some aggressive application of federalism. In Sarasota FL, where I live, the local school board was, last election cycle, tossed out on this kind of basis. The effects have yet to play out because layer upon layer of staff will not be displaces overnight, but it’s a start. You have drawn a line based on squeamishness not principal on these matters, abortion, various medial procedures, LGBTQ+, critical race theory and BLM, Green agenda and warming, foreign policy and war, federal power, but a clique of pseudo intellectuals has decided to reshape our cultural world, and you will find some push back. Your target is what kind of libertine paradise? Do you really think this is a model for a healthy and happy society? Places where it has been tried have hit a wall Sweden, Portland Oregon , San Fran, …. I was in the Height Ashbury in 1967, and I saw the Hippy provo free counter culture hit a wall and the free love and free drugs spawned a street hell that has matasticised into San Fran today. Maybe Hail Satan is not too far off.

  • Lots of work to do on banned books, even in grade school. Why worry that the
    kiddies have x rated sex lessons which normalize what used to be called deviant behavior. How about books in these school libraries like James Bacque series
    “Crimes and Mercies” , “Other Losses” … The main adult library won’t even carry these. In fact until recently they were only available on line from foreign sources, France, … but now Amazon figured out people could get them anyway by mail from overseas. Maybe they could learn some history.
    In the broader front, Fauci has been exposed as forbidding internet sources from publishing vaccination and COVID information that the CDC felt was better the the public did not know, so off the little scamps go to facebook, twitter, and the master speaks. I got thrown off Twitter because I questioned the 2020 election results pointing out many reasons to doubt the accuracy of the vote count. The government and the alphabet agencies put pressure on Twitter do do their required censorship and lo and behold, so be it. This is moving beyond the library in the grade school, this is in the public domain in general. Now the dam is breaking and as with the Bacque books, it has proven impossible to hide because of foreign sources. ONLY because of foreign sources, for the truth. Sad state of affairs. I could go on and on but anti censorship is a lonely fight if one waits for support from the left. By the way, you lefties will destroy the public faith in not only public education, the CDC, the alphabet agencies FBI, CIA, … big Media, big Pharma, higher education, … because once the information dam breaks, all the suppression and censorship in the Media will crush those with a hand in it. Do buy a few of the James Bacque books.

  • matutinal procyonlotor:

    I agree with Paul that the granola crunching left goes too far on some issues, mainly sexual, BUT-

    I think Twitter was right booting you off for questioning the 2020 election results. 50 secretaries of State certified their results including some Republicans in States where Biden won. 60+ judges threw out all the Trump filings claiming election problems. Some of the Trump attorneys are being sanctioned for lying in their filings. One of the cases where Trump should be found guilty is in GA, where the R governor and R Secretary of state confirm that Trump pressured them to come up with 11,000+ votes to over come the Biden win.

    I have found no believable evidence for Biden’s win being fraud. Why not post your sources for this.

  • After the election, in GA, the math of the jump for democrats was discusses in a you tube video. not politics, strictly the math of the returns. I did capture the you tube, (too big to download but I have it) and it was take down by you tube in the second or third day. Scrubbed. All such systematic treatments were taken down as well. Censorship on a grand scale. One can’t rely on you tube or Wikipedia as sources because they are manipulated, but just after the original instantiation, sometimes a trace is left if one captures it in time. Wikipedia had a really informative piece on the nature of Galacia in Ukraine, but when it gained some views and traction, it was modified into political correct status. So if the nature of allowed evidence is corrupt, one can’t have much of a discussion. Reminds me of a discussion I had with a liberal brother in law about election fraud shortly after 2020, and when I pointed out the sites, he went to his go-to sources and came back with the retort, — those sites you gave me were hoax sites, so says … my site. So discussion grinds to a halt. With Vacations, the left and the media thought they had the matter tied down, but then foreign sources were not so easy to coerce and not the dam has broken, but not because of any attack of conscience by the media and pharma and academia and government in this country. They are now confronted with their unsavory behavior, with Fauci saying “I am science” but lone voice Rand Paul et. al. was there to help us remember. Only because foreign media sources held the lamp of freedom of speech high was this possible with the Democrat stranglehold on the organs of public speech and discourse. I read the left stuff all the time. Most of it is behind a pay wall but there are tricks to see it, google the article bullet items and sometimes you can find a pointer to the article of interest or some part of it, and I am very interested in reading their views. On climate, on elections, on Guns, on LGBTQ+ … on Vax and federal socialized medical tyranny, on Deep state, on Government agencies DOD, FBI,CIA,… on MIC, and on the push for war to cover up the MMT failure which will cause a calamity soon of a proportion we had not imagined possible a decade ago. (The hell of MMT inspired inflation will be released soon because the inflation cant be exported as usual with the demise of the petro dollar arrangement , broken by the Ukraine war). The Root of all of it is the culture war in the education and media. The soul of the country seems to have changed, but the external signs may leave room for hope that the rot has not gone to the heartwood. We will soon see. The election system may be corrupt and it may be too late to save the country through that avenue, but the founders knew what to do when confronted with that sort of dilemma, and we may have to appeal to it again, or give up. Nothing is forever, even the idea of a country that once was.

  • I read the other day about this being banned, and I was very surprised. I had watched and forgotten the movie years ago, and watched again last night. I can see it being banned for 7th grade and below and possibly even 8th grade. But that’s it.

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