We accept the love we think we deserve.
From the Back Cover
It is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
~ 1999 MTV Books Edition
Why the Book was Banned
2. Drug use
3. Sexual content
In general, all the normal stuff teens go through.
Charlie writes a series of letters to an anonymous friend (the reader) about his freshman year of high school. Unlike most books this week, the back cover actually said what the book was about, so just go back and read that. Thanks.
I really don’t want to give too much of this book away. I didn’t feel bad about revealing plot lines for the other books; as most are over 50 years old, you deserve to have the plots spoiled. However, Perks was written in 1999, so it’s only about 14 years old. This was the most enjoyable book I read all week. This was the book I couldn’t put down and stayed up until three in the morning to finish. So, if you haven’t read the book yet, and you really want to, stop reading now.
At various times, Charlie experiments with drugs, and not just pot. Charlie experiences the highs – and lows – of cigarettes, alcohol, acid, marijuana, and hard liquor. Even though his friends enable him, Charlie’s imbibing doesn’t ingratiate himself to them. Rather, they clean up after him, help him down, and drag him out of snowbanks. Charlie could be both the “before” and “after” model for a DARE poster.
Charlie’s family looks like the model family from a 1940s or 1950s magazine, but inside the bounds of the white picket fence things are far from perfect. His parents favor their oldest son, remain ignorant of their daughter’s shenanigans, and essentially ignore Charlie. His family reminds us not to judge appearances. I know that when I was growing up I thought other kids’ families were better than mine. Now I know better; every family has drama.
Chbosky accurately portrays the double-edged sword of friendship. Charlie’s friends help him through some dark times; one even helps him break through a repressed memory. However, some of those very same friends were the ones responsible for Charlie’s despondency in the first place.
Charlie also experiences love in its many forms: lust, infatuation, affection, and familial. As expected, each introduces unique challenges into Charlie’s life.
Perks addresses teenage sexuality. This topic is the main reason the book was banned. Charlie is a witness to abuse, date rape, homosexuality, unplanned pregnancy, and abortion. Written from the perspective of someone who doesn’t want to be there, this is the stuff you probably won’t learn in health class (and I should know – I teach it). Again, Perks isn’t glamorizing these things; it’s a warning against them.
Finally, Charlie writes. Charlie’s first letters talking about his English teacher and the “bonus work” meant to develop Charlie’s natural abilities. Throughout his letters, we learn what Charlie reads (mostly banned classics) and how his writing improves. The letters themselves indicate Charlie’s progress; there is a dramatic change from the first letter to the last in quality and substance. By the end, Charlie opens up and lets us into his life.
Even wallflowers bloom.
Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.