What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this coming-of-age classic features a lot of mature material including an abortion, repressed memories of sexual abuse, and men having sex with one another (sometimes anonymously). Characters, including the teen narrator, drink, smoke, and use drugs. Even so, it has become a classic of sorts because of its tender coming-of-age story that's easy to compare to The Catcher in the Rye. Parents who are concerned about the mature material may want to consider reading it along with their kids.
What's the story?
After his friend commits suicide, smart misfit Charlie is trying to learn to "participate" in life. He befriends a group of interesting older kids who introduce him to partying, but also respect his sensitivity. In letters that Charlie writes to an anonymous stranger, he talks about his family, his friends, and his complicated, often overwhelming, feelings about growing up. Eventually, his longtime crush tells him that he "can't just sit there and put everybody's life ahead of yours and think that counts as love" and he slowly learns to be present in his life.
Is it any good?
Teens who love The Catcher in the Rye will find this to be an excellent sequel of sorts. Charlie shares Holden's overwhelming sensitivity -- and struggles with psychological issues -- and readers will find themselves quickly feeling sorry for the protagonist and worrying about him throughout his transformative journey. There's lots of mature content here, from sexual material to Charlie's repressed memories of being abused; parents may want to read along with their teens so they can help them with any questions. Alternately, Simon & Schuster has a reading guide that can help them think through some of the plot points and deeper issues.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about controversial books. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was the 10th most challenged book on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most banned or challenged books of 2000-2009. What makes it so controversial? Who should be able to make the decision about what you read or what's in your school or public library?
Teens and parents may want to compare and contrast this book with some of the other coming-of-age classics Charlie reads during his 10th grade year, including The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace. Why did the author choose to include these books?