The Perks of being a Wallflower: Navigating Teenage Challenges

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The world we live in today everyone has an opinion, and freedom of speech, equality and justice are protested daily. Banning of books and censorship is nothing new, it has been around for many years. In 1980’s the American Library Association (ALA) started Banned Books Week due to the increased challenges of books, the Supreme Court in the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico, ruled that “”school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content”” (“”Banned Books Week””).

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During the week, the ALA focuses on books that have been challenged or banned, bringing attention to freedom to read and freedom of expression. The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been banned or challenge approximately eighteen times since 2002 for a variety of reasons from sexual content to drug abuse (“”Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky””). Although the novel has been challenged so many times, there are still messages and lessons that can be taught through the novel about mental health, sexual abuse, drug abuse, homosexuality and suicide.

The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, tackles issues and struggles teenagers face because it highlights mental health issues faced by our youth and the truth of starting high school and its effects on adolescents. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens states, “”An estimated 4.5 to 6.3 million youth in the United States face mental health challenges”” (“”National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day””). Chbosky sheds light on this shocking statistic. Charlie was shy and awkward, he had faced many struggles though his first fifteen years of his life, he has struggled with depression since his Aunt Helen’s death when he was seven. He didn’t fit in with any crowd at school, and he had recently lost his best friend Michael to suicide. Charlie states, “”I do not like high school”” (Chbosky 8), when he starts his freshman year he has no friends since Michael’s death and Susan changed over the summer, she no longer talks to him. Charlie is struggling with the death of his friend and trying to figure out where he fits in. The transition to high school is a scary event for most adolescents and many have struggles with anxiety, depression and acceptance. This is the awkward age where an adolescent is figuring out their identity. Today many adolescents struggle with this issue due to social media being the main form of interaction, leaving them unable to interact with others and having more mental health issues. The novel should be taught because it does an excellent job of displaying the many issues and challenges that teenagers face through high school.

The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, tackles issues and struggles teenagers face because it exposes the topic of sexual abuse. This is a problem that has been around forever but is never talked about, nonetheless Chbosky uses it in the novel to shed light on the reality of it and its effects on the victim. Throughout the novel Charlie struggles with his mental health, unknowing of the core issue that he was dealing with. Many survivors of sexual abuse suppress the memories. RAINN states, “”The effects of sexual abuse can occur many years after the abuse has ended”” (“”RAINN | The Nation’s Largest Anti-Sexual Violence Organization””). This is what Charlie is dealing with, when Charlie was little his Aunt Helen lived with them and she repeatedly sexually abused him. During his first sexual encounter with Sam, the memories of the sexual abuse comes rushing back resulting in Charlie having a mental breakdown. This is a topic that is hard to discuss, but it carries so much weight as to the reason for his struggles. Although sexual abuse is a controversial topic, exposing young adults to the reality that it does happen, can possibly have an impact on a victim. If by reading the novel, one victim can relate and tell of their abuse, the novel has been beneficial. The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, tackles issues and struggles teenagers face because exposure to drugs and alcohol is inevitable in high school. The transition to high school is a difficult one and many teenagers do not know how to deal with the transition, turning to drugs and alcohol is their way of coping. Chbosky displays the reality of the use of drugs and alcohol during high school years. A survey done by Monitoring the Future states, “”Drug use and attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in hundreds of schools across the country continues to report promising trends, with past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana holding steady at the lowest levels in over two decades”” (“”National Institute on Drug Abuse””). Although drugs use is on a decline, it is still a problem for high school adolescents.

Charlie quickly learns about drinking and drugs when he meets his new group of older friends, Patrick and Sam. Charlie states, “”I ate the brownie, and it tasted a little weird, but it was still a brownie, so I still liked it. But it was not an ordinary brownie”” (Chbosky 35). Charlie went to his first party with Patrick and Sam where he ate a brownie laced with marijuana, he experienced his first high. Alcohol and drug use and abuse is a reality of the world we live in, today we are facing a major opioid crisis. While the novel contains many references to the use of alcohol and drugs, this does not mean that it will sway a teenager to use. Parents need to speak to their children about the risk and consequences of use and abuse of all drugs, the novel opens the door for conversation. The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, tackles issues and struggles teenagers face because homosexuality is a major topic in today’s society. Patrick states, “”Listen, Charlie. Brad doesn’t want people to know. I need you to promise that you won’t tell anyone. This will be our secret”” (Chbosky 37). Charlie caught Patrick and Brad kissing at the party, exposing that Brad is homosexual would have many repercussions for him since he was the quarterback of the football team. Teenage years are difficult for all teenagers, even more so for teens struggling with their identity. A study done by Research Journal of the American Association of School Libraries states, “”LGBTQ teens are at risk when they can’t find materials to help them feel included in their community”” (Hughes-Hassel, Sandra).

Therefore, not allowing access to books would be an injustice to our youth. This novel and many others with this topic should be accessible because it can help teens who are struggling with their sexuality understand that they are not alone in what they are feeling. The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, tackles issues and struggles teenagers face because today we are seeing a rise in suicide in our youth. The American Academy of Child and Adolescents states, “”Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults age 5-to-24-year-olds”” (“”AACA””). This is an alarming statistic to the realism of suicide. Charlie states, “”Well, I think Michael was a nice guy and I don’t understand why he did it. As much as I feel sad, I think not knowing is what really bothers me”” (Chbosky 4), Charlie is struggling with the recent suicide of his friend Michael. Ironically, Charlie’s favorite poem is the suicide note from another kid, and at one point he states he starts feeling like the poem. With the use of social media today, adolescents are faced with more pressure resulting in anxiety and low self-esteem. Many do not know how to deal with it, leaving them to attempt or commit suicide. Given that mental illness is so stigmatized, exposing adolescents to material that can help them relate to how they are feeling can save someone from committing suicide.

Along with teaching about suicide, information for resources to get the help they need should also be available. In society today with everyone having an opinion, we need to be proactive about topics that impact our lives. The director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom states, “”Protecting one of our most fundamental rights – the freedom to read – means respecting each other’s differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read”” (“”Book on text messaging teens prompts most book challenges of 2009″”). We must learn to protect what we stand for, teaching our youth about this is essential to their development. Given almost all information is at your fingertips through the internet and most teenagers have a smartphone in their hands at all times. These topics and more are radially available online and through social media. Teaching topics such as these can prepare them for when they are exposed to them online. We must continue to provide material to our youth to help aid in their growth to become knowledgeable well-informed adults.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Navigating Teenage Challenges. (2019, Jan 10). Retrieved from