Gen Y Catcher in the Rye?

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999.

"Dear Friend,

I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have" begins Charlie. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an evocative, often challenged look at what it means to grow up. Charlie is the sensitive, thoughtful narrator seeking to survive his freshman year in high school where he meets new friends, falls in love, and begins to experience things like sex, drugs, and alcohol. The entirety of the novel is in the form of letters written to an unknown person "who listens and understands and doesn't try to sleep with people even if they could have."

"So, this is my life," writes Charlie, "and I want you to know that I'm both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be."

When Charlie was in eigth grade, his best friend Michael killed himself, and so entering into his freshman year, Charlie is something of a loner. That is until he meets Patrick. Patrick is a senior who is in Charlie's shop class. When Charlie sees him at a football game, which he attends alone because "Michael is gone, and Susan hangs around different boys now, and Bridget is still crazy, and Carl's mom sent him to a Catholic school, and Dave with the awkward glasses moved away," he approaches him because "he seems like the kind of guy you can just walk up to at a football game even though you were three years younger and not popular." Patrick invites Charlie to come along with him and his stepsister, Sam, to Big Boy. And that is when it all begins for Charlie.
Charlie is thrust into a new life with older friends who actually listen to him when he talks. Who don’t treat him like he is younger. And it is through these friends that he first experiences things like drugs, alcohol, sex, and homosexuality in his own life, instead of just being aware of them because of his older siblings. Charlie falls in love with Sam, and struggles to accept Sam’s involvement with an older guy, Craig, a photographer whom he feels is not good for Sam. Of Craig, Charlie says, “I think it’s bad when the only honest way a boy can look at a girl is through a camera.”
Throughout his freshman year, Charlie struggles with his love for Sam. He starts to better understand his older brother and sister, as well as his parents. He helps Patrick through some hard times after he breaks up with the Brad, his boyfriend who has difficulty accepting his homosexuality. He has a bad acid trip. He composes a killer mixtape. He also discovers a very dark secret about himself that has long been buried. But perhaps most importantly of all, he “feels infinite” on several occasions.

The result is a powerful, no-holds-barred, coming of age tale that no young lover of literature can do without.

Recommendations for Teachers
This novel contains a lot of controversial material. Sex, drugs, homosexuality, rape and even pedophilia are addressed, and the language can be very explicit. As a result, teaching this book to a whole class in any but the most liberal districts would be nearly impossible. That being said, the book is excellent, and young adults love it. A perfect fit for your more mature students looking for a little more challenging of a read.

If you did manage, through permission slips or something similiar, to teach this book to a whole class, it definitely is a good candidate for a gateway into the censorship debate. Since students connect with this one so personally, they will likely definitely feel how frustrating a thing censorship is.

Perhaps an interesting idea for a project which would dovetail perfectly with this novel is to have your students create mixes. You could really have them explore the lost art of the mixtape, and see just what kind of creative expression is possible in arranging songs together.

About Stephen Chbosky
Stephen_Chbosky.jpgStephen Chboksy was born January 25th 1970, and grew up in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania. As a young man, Chbosky read a great deal, his favorites authors being Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J.D. Salinger. Many critics have noted the similarities between his semi-autobiographigcal, epistollary novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Catcher in the Rye.

Chbosky was also heavily influenced by Stewart Stern, director of "Rebel Without a Cause." He graduated from Southern California with a degree in screenwriing. In 1995, he realeased The Four Corners of Nowhere, which he wrote, directed, and acted in. His film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Chbosky released The Perks of Being a Wallflower in February, 1999 and it quickly became MTV's top-selling book. He then went on to become an executive-producer for CBS drama, Jericho. The show was cancelled in March 2008.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)
Stephen Chbosky shares a letter he received from a reader of The Perks of Being a Wallflower at ALA's banned books readout in Chicago, September 2008. A powerful statement of just how much this book affects young readers, and why it should not be banned.

Additional Resources:

--Review by Jory.