Friday, October 3, 2008

Banned Books Week: One Way to Choose a Book

This week is Banned Book Week, a recognition of books challenged or banned in American libraries and schools. The American Library Association keeps track of these statistics, and compiles a list every year. I'm always amazed at what makes the list.

In honor of the freedom of expression, and because I want to know what all of the fuss is about, I read a challenged book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I loved it so much, I made Alicia read it.

Frankly, I can see why some people might be uncomfortable reading it. The storyline included drug use, physical abuse, a tense marriage, familial squabbling, teen sexuality, homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, sexual abuse, suicide. Heck, it starts with teen suicide.

The narrator was a 15-year-old boy named Charlie who is writing a series of letters to "a friend." In these letters, he discusses everything happening in his life. He's reading some great literature, meeting new friends, dating, falling in love, watching his sister get slapped by her boyfriend —

Wait, repeat that?

Yes, Charlie sees some pretty incredible stuff. He has to relate to it — a challenge presented to him by his young, enthusiastic first-year English teacher. Charlie can't just watch life. He has to live it.

And when he does, he finds friends, examines his love of his parents, thinks about his dead aunt Helen, discovers he can beat the stuffing out of just about anyone. And cries. He cries a lot. By the end, you understand why.

Stephen Chbosky's compact novel, published by MTV (really!) in 1999 is an incredible book, and one I highly recommend.

No matter your age when you read it, you probably want to discuss some of the content with someone you trust. It can be a little intense, and there are a lot of things characters do that you've been told to not do. Once Alicia finishes it this weekend, we will discuss it.

When you read it, and I hope you do, let me know what you think.

And if you find it's not your cup of tea, find another book. I've read most of the books on the most challenged list, just by chance. Perks was a wild choice, and one I'm glad I made.

Perusing this list is one of the ways to choose a book, and it has always yielded interesting results for me. I think you should give it a try.

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