I decided to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower after seeing the movie - steeped in the belief that the book is almost always better than the movie. That old axiom isn't necessarily true in this case. The book and movie both tell essentially the same story, the sweet and poignant tale of of a young boy entering his freshman year of high school one year later than he should have due to a lengthy and somewhat mysterious hospitalization when he was younger. And while each medium, the book and the movie, tell the same tale peopled with the same characters, each provides some information that the other does not offer. They are complementary, and anyone who enjoys either should see or read the other.
Undoubtedly the reason that the movie is so true to the book is that they were both penned by the same individual. Author Stephen Chbosky served as the screenwriter for the movie - an extremely smart move on the part of Hollywood. Chbosky is no stranger to putting his work before a camera. He was the co-creator and executive producer of Jericho, one of my all-time favorite television dramas.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has made its way onto numerous banned-book lists, and though it is the tale of modern kids functioning in a realistic manner, there has been opposition to the book in some high schools. There is some language in the book that those with a narrow perspective of the world might find offensive, but it is how kids talk. There are numerous references to sex, though nothing explicit is revealed, and two of the male characters are gay. There is also a lot a cigarette smoking and drinking by high school students, occasional recreational drug use, and even an abortion. But again, it is all very realistic and should not shock anyone who has some sense of what today's young people are all about.
Charlie, the central character, is a freshman who develops a strong friendship with a pair of step-siblings (Sam,a female, and her step-brother Patrick) who both happen to be seniors. Those friendships lead to others from which Charlie is able to draw strong life lessons - lessons that he talks about in his letters to an anonymous friend. The book, in fact, is composed entirely of Charlie's letters.
Charlie also develops a strong friendship with his advanced English teacher, Bill. Bill recognizes that Charlie is a "special" student at the beginning of the school year, and he begins giving Charlie extra books to read and report on. Those books have a significant impact on Charlie and help him to form a goal of wanting to become a writer. The books that Bill has Charlie read over the course of his freshman year include:
On the Road, Naked Lunch, The Stranger, This Side of Paradise, Peter Pan, A Separate Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, Walden, and The Fountainhead.
(One note: Bill told Charlie to read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead not as a sponge, but as a filter.)
Next year instead of selecting ten banned books to read, I may just adopt Bill's list and go with that!
But for this year, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is often a banned book - and it is a very good one!