Is It Alright for the Kids? The fight for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“Diverse” experiences in literature are still starting fires after all these years.

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

We’re approaching the end of National Library Week, and to kick it off, the American Library Association released a report, pointing to the institution’s importance and potential in the digital age, while highlighting the challenges it faces in the United States today.

Among these are the challenges that particular books face themselves. This year, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom compiled a list of banned and challenged books from the last decade. It’s conclusion: over half of those books come from authors of color or have “diverse content.”

From the 2014 “Top Ten Challenged Books,” eight of the titles fit this description. Included is the Stephen Chbosky coming-of-age novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” One Connecticut school district carried the controversy into the new year when it received a formal complaint letter from one of its school board members.

Spoiler alert: the book is not ultimately removed from the school’s library. It was, however, taken off of curricular options available to freshman at Sheehan High School. It was a decision that a number of parents found undesirable and complicated, part of an ongoing battle between the dream of preserving youth’s innocence and the belief that it’s more effective to use literature to discuss the world as it is. Even when that world is confusing. Even when those experiences are different from our own.

Thanks to a request from MuckRock user M. Alan Thomas II, we’re able to witness one portion of a not uncommon conversation. Interestingly, the original complainant encourages the use of “classic” literature to educate our children; another parent points out that much of that material has also been criticized in its own time and could still be considered offensive, though exposure does not mean its being condoned (in the parlance of the day: Retweets ≠ Endorsement).

The Wallingford School District will take the summer to reevaluate its approach to using this book as a teaching tool. There’s a larger conversation here about how the simple accessibility to books and knowledge shapes and influences some and makes others uncomfortable. For our ease, the offended parent included the Cliffnotes on all the titillating bits of the book, photocopied and included with his complaint.

This year’s National Library Week theme is “Unlimited possibilities @ your library®,” and the ALA makes note of the unique position that the library serves in our society; it points to the “safe haven” the library in Ferguson was, where a general democratic decorum remained stable even for a community in flux. In schools and cities, books continue to be a platform for progress.

Has a book drawn the ire of a conservative critic in your area? Let us know at info@muckrock.com, and we’ll ask for the discussion near you.

Read the full correspondence on the request page, and be sure to hug your local library today!


Image via Wikimedia Commons