Bingo Square: Banned Books (https://www.marshall.edu/library/bannedbooks/books/perks.asp)- this book was banned in 2017 in the school district I attended as a kid, and that my mom taught in until recently. It was deemed offensive due to its ‘explicit sexual references’ which were called “disgusting”. It was specifically banned in a middle school after it was assigned by a substitute teacher for a 7-th grade advanced language arts class.
I have to say that while I think banning books is a ridiculous thing, I don’t think this book is an appropriate assignment for 7th-graders.
The novel is told through letters written by Charlie to an anonymous someone. Charlie is entering his freshman year of high school and is having trouble finding his place. His best (and only?) friend Michael recently committed suicide, and Charlie starts writing to his anonymous friend to have a place to organize his thoughts and tell his feelings. He describes himself mostly as an observer of others and very rarely as a participant in his own life. This begins to change when two Seniors, Patrick and Sam, take him on as a pet. He joins their friend circle and immediately falls in love with Sam. Through his letters, he chronicles the meals, parties, acid trips, masturbation tricks he partakes of. He relays the triumphs of his brother and the heartbreak of his sister but is always a bit separate from the action.
Charlie repeatedly tells his pen-friend about the teachers that remark on his brilliance, but I spent the entire book thinking that Charlie was either on the autism spectrum or developmentally disabled. Please don’t flame me here, I’m not saying someone on the spectrum can’t be brilliant. But for a character that is meant to be a brilliant writer, the writing is extremely unimpressive. The twist at the end- that Charlie is the way he is because of PTSD- makes some sense in retrospect, but still doesn’t explain the pervasive mediocrity of the writing in a character that is repeatedly applauded for being an excellent writer.
I am not sure that 12- and 13-year-olds are the right audience for a book that spends a couple of chapters on cruising for BJs at parks after dark, the high-schooler’s determination about what might make a person a poor candidate for repeat LSD use, and descriptions of every named character having sex. If my kid were to get this at the library or bookstore, I’d allow it but with discussion about the topics involved as she read. I don’t think a required assignment at that age group is appropriate. Also, I think that there are books that deal with molestation and PTSD in a more nuanced way.