“Do I Want My Book Banned? No,” “Perks of Being a Wallflower” Author Says After Wallingford Book Controversy

The author of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" says he's offended when critics quote passages of the book out of context.

In a recent interview, author Stephen Chbosky clarified the contents of his book that one Wallingford parent deemed controversial, complaining to the school district and objecting to students being allowed to read it. Wallingford Superintendent Salvatore Menzo removed the book from the curriculum in response back in February.

"There's a part in the book where Charlie witnesses date rape and I always found it interesting because some watchdog groups always cite that passage," Stephen Chbosky said in a recent phone interview. "I always find it so strange that they do because so often in the past people would say that passage is meant to titillate.

"My response has always been rape is violence, not sex, so how can it possibly titillate anybody? If it does then that warrants a much larger discussion than a book."

"The entire book is a blueprint for survival. It's for people who have been through terrible things and need hope and support," he explained. "The idea of taking two pages out of context and creating an atmosphere as perverse is offensive to me — deeply offensive."

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" has been described as a coming-of-age novel. The narrator, a high school freshman, tells his story through letters written throughout the school year. The novel was adapted into a 2012 film starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, which Chbosky also directed.

On March 23, Menzo sent a letter to parents and staff saying a committee would be formed to review the curriculum and book.

"A misunderstanding exists concerning the school district's recent review of the book 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,'" Menzo wrote. "The Wallingford Public School District did not remove students' access to the book; but rather, made a decision concerning the manner in which the book would be used by the school district following a request for review by a parent."

After the book was removed from classes, another local parent submitted a formal request to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Shawn Parkhurst to reinstate it. The parent will follow the same process Bolat did when he filed a complaint, Parkhurst said. A decision has to be reached by April 28, Parkhurst added, but he expects it will come sooner.

The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter in March criticizing Menzo's decision. The letter was cosigned by the Association of American Publishers, the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Booksellers For Free Expression, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Pen American Center's Children's and Young Adult Book Committee.

Menzo's decision to remove the book at the request of a single parent was frustrating for some parents. Chbosky, who has a daughter and son, said he would never want to force someone's child to read his book, but he felt it was unfair for a single parent to take the opportunity away from other students.

"If this gentleman objected to the book, he should be allowed to say that I don't want my son to read that," Chbosky said. "At the same time, I don't recognize his right to tell me my son or daughter can't read it."

In the past, Chbosky said, he would try to write letters to the parents to explain why he wrote the book and why it has value.

"I try to reach out to them to let them understand that I didn't write this book to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I didn't write this book to be explicit at all," he said. "I wrote this book as a blueprint for healing. I wrote this book to end the silence."

Young people have written to Chbosky saying the book or movie saved their lives.

"These were young people who were so isolated and misunderstood and they saw my movie or read the book and it gave them enough hope to keep going," he said. "... Because I have that experience and because I know that's true, I'm always wondering where's the next kid because that kid is out there. It's happened too many times over the last 15 years to be a coincidence."

Some argue the book should not be read in schools, but Chbosky said that is the "perfect setting" for it.

"It creates dialogue about issues that young people face," he said. "... The classroom legitimizes these issues and by taking it out of the classroom we demote these things to 'dirty little secrets' and they're not dirty little secrets; these are things young people face every day."

The book is meant to create dialogue, Chbosky added, because "the more conversations we have about these things, the better." His book has been on the American Library Association's Top 10 most challenged books numerous times in the past decade.

"Do I want my book banned? No. Challenged? No. I don't care how many (books) I sell, it's not worth the silence," he explained. "It makes me feel sad. To me, it means that the conversation was attempted to be ended by somebody."

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