Posted by: Gregg | October 26, 2006

Smells Like Teen Spirit, part 1

As mentioned several weeks ago, I picked up some Young Adult novels that had been banned from libraries in honor of Banned Book Week. (When I was a younger, I always liked to read stuff I wasn’t supposed to, figuring that was where all the good stuff was. I wasn’t mistaken then, and I’m not now.)

My first read was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The novel is written from the point of view of a shy high-school student, Charlie, who writes letters to an unnamed friend recounting his experiences during his freshman year and the summer afterward. Doing a bit of research on the net, I’ve noticed that Perks is one of those books that has very little middle ground – readers either think it’s emo trash or they take it to heart and really adore it. I can see why.

Charlie is the ultimate wallflower: terminally shy, awkward, a quiet observer of all things around him. He stumbles across some friendly upperclassmen who take him into their group of outsiders who provide the backdrop for the rest of the novel. Besides the usual issues of coming of age and falling in love that you’d expect out of a teen novel, it’s obvious fairly early on that Charlie suffers from depression as well as repressing memories of some previous abuse. At the start of the novel, his best friend had just committed suicide. Throw in a homosexual best friend, recreational drug use, teenage abortion, date rape, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it’s easy to understand why the book is under constant threat of being banned. But here’s the thing: none of these things are presented salaciously or for effect – they’re presented honestly and realistically, the kinds of things that all midwestern teenagers come across or hear about when growing up. As the book progresses, Charlie comes out of his shell and attempts to connect with those around him, with some success. We’re left with hope for Charlie as he unlocks hidden secrets within himself at the end.

Perks drips honesty. Raw, brutal, painful honesty. Chbosky gets the feelings of an introverted, misfit teen incredibly on target. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

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