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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banned: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I mentioned in my Banned Books Week post that a few years ago, I started a BBW readathon at the community college, where I worked as a writing tutor.

Every year, whenever I was the one reading aloud, I would always go to the same book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This was the perfect read-aloud for me for Banned Books. On the surface, it has obvious reasons why it was banned, but anyone who sits down to read it will see that everything has a purpose and that it wall works together to make something great. Truly great. It is an epistolary novel, consisting of letters written to someone known only as "friend" by a naive and touching boy named Charlie. It is by tuns hilarious and heart-wrenching. It is the type of book that, if you can't connect to it, it sorta makes me wonder if you're human...

So every year, I reach for The Perks of Being a Wallflower , and every year, everyone settles in to listen. It catches more people's attention than nearly any other book we put on display. So I would like to share with you some of my favorite stories resulting from reading this book aloud.

First, you have to understand that this is a college campus, and we were set up in front of the library. Sometimes there would be a huge influx of people, and some would stop and listen, some would donate and talk to us, and some would just walk on by. At times, there was no one there but me, reading aloud to myself, or to a co-volunteer. I always sort of knew what was coming next in the story, and I always hoped that someone would be around for the best parts.
The first year I read this, I could see out of the corner of my eye a section coming. It's one of my favorites, and one of the reasons this book is challenged so often. It is an excited little letter that Charlie wrote to "Friend" that goes a little something like this
Do you know what 'masturbation' is? I think you probably do because you are older than me. But just in case, I will tell you. Masturbation is when you rub your genitals until you have an orgasm. Wow!
Yes, you heard me right. This is one of may favorite parts (I laugh aloud every single time), and I was hoping someone would come through. The room was empty, save for me, blithely reading, and a fellow volunteer. But I could see, headed straight for the library's doors, two boys. I thought to myself, "please, please come through in time." What bigger attention getter is there than a girl sitting in a room reading that? They came through right as I got to that line.

My second story happened the next year, when I was once again reading Perks. As I said, the readathon took place in a library foyer. There were tables there where people would sit and chat (talking over the reading, like they couldn't take it outside. grr, don't get me started) and some people would sit and study. There was one young man who chose the latter option, which I tried not to be irritated with. There are entire rooms for quiet study inside the library, as well as tables and cubbyholes. I was not about to modify my reading voice for him to study his massively thick book that I can only guess was accounting. I figured we had to be getting on his nerves, but that was his problem. We were there first, and I am territorial.
I continued to read, and every now and then, he would look up, but it was in this abstracted way, like he was working out a problem. Or maybe he was trying to calm himself down, because we had to be getting on his nerves. I didn't think he was listening to us, or gave a damn about censorship and what we were doing.
He sat there for hours.
When he got up to leave, he came over to the table. I thought, 'here it comes, he's going to tell us that he is giving up and going somewhere else, since we obviously can't read in a quite voice.' He asked the name of the book. He wrote it down. I thought, 'Oh, great, he's going to go complain that two loons were reading a book about drugs and sex and masturbation.' He told us that he never reads for pleasure, and that he couldn't remember the last book he'd chosen to read. He told us that he was going to go to the library and see if they had that book, or that he might go buy it. And then he thanked us.
[I'm tearing up right now]

This is why we do the readathon. This is why censorship is so wrong, down to its very core. This is why I will never keep quiet.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
on the ALA's Top 10 Most Banned Books of the Year nearly every year since it's publication
Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually
explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group

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.
Since its publication, Stephen Chbosky's haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, and grown in to a cult sensation with over half a million copies in print.
It is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to fell infinite.
Through Charlie, Chbosky has created a deeply affecting novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.


  1. How lovely! I'm so glad you impacted someone like that, very very glad!

    Here's to BBW and intellectual freedom :-D

  2. cool. i haven't heard of this story before. will definitely give it a read. thanks for sharing it.

    btw: you've just been awarded...again ;-D

  3. That's so gutsy, just sitting in a foyer reading aloud while people listen or go at will. Great stories. I'll look out for this one. Published in 1999, and it gets banned. What crap.

  4. It's definitely an interesting experience. You have to keep reading, you can't let yourself stop, because beginning is the hardest part. Also, you have to keep reading no matter what it says, 'cause the whole point is anti-censorship. To Kill a Mockingbird was interesting to read aloud, because it contains one of the few words I just won't say, but I had to say it.

  5. Wow you have some freaking guts...I don't know if I could ever ever do that...but GOOD JOB!!! and I wanna read this book!

  6. Why, thank you, Jenn-ay. It is really bizarre at first, and then it starts to feel natural. It takes you out of yourself a bit, and it's a great attention getter. I would highly suggest trying it sometime. It helps if you're affiliated with something (standing on a street corner reading aloud tends to get the wrong kind of looks, and everyone will assume you're a religious fanatic reading the end of times to the world...). I wish there were BBW and Big Read readathons everywhere, and that people would come by and add their voices. It makes a big statement.

  7. That's so cool that you do a reading for BBW! Very bold. :)

  8. Awesome story! Thank you for sharing that with us! I have never read Perks of being a Wallflower, but I plan to read it soon. Nice post!


  9. Wow, you're making ME tear up now. I just love it when you inspire someone to read. Oh here come the tears. Fantastic story. I've read that book, but not in a long time. Maybe I should nab a copy and reread. :)

  10. At least I'm not the only sap that tears up. Seriously, every time I tell that story. Every time. :P

  11. I'm a little late - sorry! Those stories are awesome! Especially about the guy who didn't read; it's great to be able to convert a on-reader with such an awesome book. I've never read this book before, but it sounds great! I will be checking this book out :) Thank you!


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