I first read this book in late junior high, early high school, and I’ve read it I don’t know how many times sine then. I had a bit harder time finding news on this book being banned, but I was able to find a few: like this one. Actually, what made me really happy to see where multiple articles like this one, which talk about communities that fought back against the banning of Perks. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to have this slim, small green friend in hand, here is the summary from Goodreads:
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.
Usually I love Goodreads, but that summary just doesn’t do justice to what the book is really about. Charlie is a shy kid, and the whole book is written like a diary, or a letter, to someone who is never named, and who we never see. Charlie, shy in school and having already faced a number of difficult issues in his life (the death of an aunt, a friend’s suicide), is friends with really only three people. His English teacher, who knows how brilliant Charlie is, and feeds him different, more challenging books than the rest of his classmates, Patrick, and his stepsister Sam.
Patrick, Sam, and Charlie make up the heart of the novel. It is with Patrick and Sam that Charlie experiences drinking, driving (sometimes at the same time, sometimes not), smoking pot, and being truly open with people. They are in The Rocky Horror Picture Show together. They have Christmas and Halloween parties together, drive together to infinity. Charlie loves Sam, and learns about the homosexual experience from Patrick. And, at the end of it all, Charlie is usually too innocent to even know what he’s looking at. But that’s part of his charm – Charlie is the eternal wallflower.
I’m sure this book was banned mostly because it was honest to the lives of a lot of teenagers. Granted, not all teenagers drink or smoke pot or break curfew. But many do, including the ones in this book. I can understand parent’s reacting strongly to themes like these, especially because the book, while being honest about the consequences of these actions, doesn’t have every night of drunk driving end in a horrible death. However, to deny teenagers and their predecessors (I often think it’s the most important for pre-teens to have honest access to this kind of information, as it comes up to them, as opposed to teenagers who have already cemented their own ways of dealing with the issues that come to them) access to these kinds of stories – teenagers living a teenage life and facing both the negative and the positive consequences that come their way – denies them the ability to broaden their concept of how to say no, and ways to avoid situations they don’t want to be in.
Mostly, I hate that this book is banned because it’s really, really beautiful. Charlie, as a wallflower, almost lives inside his own mind, as in doing so, has become incredibly lyrical in spite (or perhaps because of) his innocence. Take, for example, the following quotes:
"We accept the love we think we deserve."
I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn't.
I laid down on his old bed, and I looked through the window at this tree that was probably a lot shorter when my dad looked at it. And I could feel what he felt on the night when he realized that if he didn't leave, it would never be his life. It would be theirs. At least that's how he's put it.
I know that I brought this all on myself. I know that I deserve this. I'd do anything not to be this way. I'd do anything to make it up to everyone. And to not have to see a psychiatrist, who explains to me about being "passive agressive." And to not have to take the medicine he gives me, which is too expensive for my dad. And to not have to talk about bad memories with him. Or be nostalgic about bad things.
As you can probably tell, this book isn’t necessarily a happy one. But it’s a truthful one, and one that leads, in my experience, to an examination of one’s own life – the things and places that make you happy (or unhappy) and, most importantly, why. I strongly encourage you to pick this one up if you get a chance (as I do with all banned books!) and hope that, whatever you’re reading, you’re having a great time doing it!