Years ago, when I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I remember not liking it very much.  But when I heard about it being made into a film, I got interested in it again, and decided to make it this year’s selection for Banned Books Week.

I finished it just a while ago, and I am so glad I chose to re-read it.  It’s a wonderful story, and reading it again has forced me to acknowledge some failings of my own youth.

Warning: The rest of this post contains spoilers for the book. If you don’t want to know, stop reading and go buy the book right now, then come back and finish reading my thoughts.

The book banners must have salivated over this one. It has nearly everything they complain about: underage drinking, drugs, mentions of suicide and rape, homosexuality and abuse.  Because we all know that if we don’t read about these things, they don’t happen.

But this is a beautifully written book, often bittersweet. It’s honest and hopeful and so much like adolescence that the crime here is not the content, it is encouraging someone to NOT read it.  I realized as I was reading that the reason I didn’t like the book the first time had nothing to do with the book itself. It was me.  I wasn’t ready for the book yet. I was too uptight. I saw the world in black and white and no shades in between. I believed people were good or bad, and that if you were “good” there were things you did and things you didn’t do.

I naively assumed that I didn’t know anyone who was gay, or who smoked a little pot once in a while, or who would commit suicide. I was a swot, I know.  I’m reformed now and a much better person for it.  Because the thing was, I did have gay friends- they just hadn’t come out yet.  And apparently everybody but me knew what 4:20 was.  And sadly, we were only a few short months away from a classmate taking his life.  If I had just been less close-minded and more open to what this book was saying, I could have learned a few valuable life lessons (and been happier) much earlier.

So going back, now, as an adult reading this book, I see its beauty and relevance to youth- and to adulthood. And I wish I’d understood the impact of it at the time. Everyone is lonely and out of place sometimes. Even the people who appear to have everything together have a moment of self-doubt. We all have secrets, some deeper and more impacting than others. The “dark” subjects that are in this book? They’re all around us. And they’re a part of the people we care about. And not acknowledging these things only keeps us from being truly honest with each other.

There are so many wonderful things about this story- the friendships Charlie develops with Sam and Patrick and others; Charlie’s relationship with his family; Charlie’s self doubt and realization that he will be OK.  Charlie learning the truth, learning to be honest, learning to heal, learning to feel.

The Perks of Being a Wildflower is one of those books that might be under-appreciated by its target audience. But maybe not. I think young adults today are aware of a lot more than I was at that same age.   It’s message is timeless, and anyone who suffered an awkward adolescence will certainly share an affinity for the kids in this story. Go, read it now.