The Perks of Reading Controversial Literature

Kate Gibson ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Copy Edited By: Nicholas DeBlasio ‘16

Banned Books Week ended this past weekend. With the large number of books displayed and read in protest last week, it definitely makes people think “Who decided this?” and “Who thinks this should be banned?” Most of the time, the answer is parents. It was parents from all over who demanded that The Perks of Being a Wallflower be removed from high schools. But why do parents have so much authority over appropriate teen fiction? Where are their boundaries?

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It’s comforting to think of banning books as something that only happens in small towns, or in the distant past. The reality is, banning books still happens today as yet another extension of society’s need for censorship for today’s youth. No book is safe; that was made apparent with the rather large list at last week’s banned or challenged books events. These books have ignited conversations among the youth, and more importantly, debates among adults and parents. One of the more well-known debates being The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

This book has been banned, burned, and probably everything in between. Since its publication in 1999, it has sparked controversy when it was banned by two school districts back in 2004, five years after it was first published. Now it holds a position on the American Library Association Top Ten List of the most frequently challenged books. Challenges against this book have included “profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture,” according to a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Fairfax, Virginia. Indeed this novel touches on important issues like sexuality, abuse, and depression—issues many young people grapple with growing up, issues that are far too seldom dealt with in the classroom. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

When defending the importance of the material in his novel, Chbosky said in an interview with My Record Journal, “The classroom legitimizes these issues and by taking it out of the classroom, we demote these things to ‘dirty little secrets’ and they’re not dirty little secrets; these are things young people face every day.” It is not surprising that even this cry for more awareness of topics like date rape and sexuality were scarcely heard by the PTA of America, who only see a two-page rape scene that is highly inappropriate for their young teenager.

Chbosky has also spoken directly to this, saying in the very same interview, “I always find it so strange that . . . people would say that passage is meant to titillate. My response has always been rape is violence, not sex, so how can it possibly titillate anybody? If it does then that warrants a much larger discussion than a book.” This does speak volumes to how parents perceive this piece. If parents believe that rape scenes in books excite their children sexually, perhaps the discussion around this book’s merit is whether or not older generations understand what it’s trying to say. Chbosky has constantly called his novel a “blueprint for healing. I wrote this book to end the silence . . . It’s for people who have been through terrible things and need hope and support. The idea of taking two pages out of context and creating an atmosphere as perverse is offensive to me—deeply offensive.”

To be frank, these issues are not new. For parents, whether they’d like to admit it or not, their child has heard of date rape, drugs, homosexuality, and the dozens of other issues brought up in this book. It’s something that adults may not be able to relate to, and subsequently not be able to understand its importance. And that’s where the problem lies. How can parents dictate what’s taught in the classroom when they don’t relate to the issues that need to be brought up? They can’t.

The negative impact of banning this book for certain groups of teens is obvious. This is a novel that teens want to read. It’s “arguably the most beloved coming-of-age novel published in the last two decades” (The Stranger) and “will engage teen readers for years” (Francisca Goldsmith of The School Library Journal). While some parents don’t see the use for the book for their children, it’s not a blanket application. Many students do not have the complete support that young students should have. Most importantly, Perks serves as an unparalleled aid for students dealing with depression, mental illness, or suicidal thoughts.

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