Last month, the Hernando County School Board removed the book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky from schools across Hernando County per the superintendent’s recommendation. This book was removed from circulation for all purposes and will not be made available to students in the Hernando County school district. Mark Johnson moved the motion, and Shannon Rodriguez seconded it. No one from the community came forward to discuss this matter, and the motion passed 5-0 unanimously.
Stephen Chbosky’s debut novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” has earned critical acclaim for exploring the tumultuous journey from adolescence to adulthood. Through the eyes of the observant “wallflower” Charlie, readers are taken on a roller-coaster ride filled with first dates, family drama, new friendships and the challenges of growing up in a world that often feels both strange and distressing.
The book, which MTV Books first published in 1999, quickly rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and won recognition from the American Library Association as one of the Best Books for Young Adults and Reluctant Readers. Its success, however, came with controversy, as the book faced removal in various school districts across the United States over the years.
Chbosky, the author, has expressed frustration in the past with those who extract two pages out of context, emphasizing that the entire novel serves as a blueprint for survival. He aimed to provide hope and support for young adults who have faced adversity, and he finds it offensive when his work is misrepresented.
The novel unfolds as an epistolary journey, with the protagonist, Charlie, documenting his experiences and emotions in a series of letters. Through Charlie’s eyes, readers are taken on an emotional ride through first dates, family drama and the complexities of growing up in this world. The narrative explores themes of loss, young love and the hurdles of transitioning to adulthood.
Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, guides him along the way by introducing him to literature and recommending books outside of the scope of the classroom curriculum. Along the way, Charlie befriends two seniors, Patrick and Sam, who welcome him into their group of “wallflowers.” These true friendships, untethered from the constraints of high school popularity, prove transformative for Charlie.
As the story progresses, Charlie grapples with his traumatic past, including childhood abuse by his aunt Helen. The novel concludes with Charlie entering a mental hospital, confronting his issues and committing to active participation in life instead of remaining a passive observer.
The decision to remove “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” in several school districts has sparked debates about censorship. While the themes in the novel are undeniably dark and mature, addressing topics such as date rape, masturbation, childhood incest, substance use, suicide and homosexuality, many people would argue that the raw and moving narrative serves as a powerful exploration of the challenges faced by many young adults during high school and beyond.
While acknowledging that the novel is not suitable for younger readers, supporters emphasize the importance of allowing older teenagers and adults to access a narrative that resonates with the complexities of adolescence. For many years, this book has been a part of the upper-level high school curriculum. Removal of such books, many would argue, limits the perspectives available to young readers and does a disservice to their intellectual and emotional growth.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” captures the weariness and melancholy often associated with high school, depicting the universal desire to fit in while staying true to oneself. Chbosky’s unvarnished writing style has been praised for its authenticity, which resonates particularly with readers who have felt like outsiders. Ultimately, the novel’s triumph lies in its ability to offer hope and inspire self-discovery, presenting a more honest, albeit flawed, version of the characters and, by extension, the readers themselves.
Summer Hampton is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in communication focused in culture and media. She is Poynter ACES certified in editing through the Poynter Institute, with a certificate of book publishing obtained through the University of Denver.