A Connecticut Superintendent is standing behind his ban of Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower despite a review committee’s recommendation otherwise and opposition from the community and free speech advocates, including CBLDF. Chbosky himself has now responded to the ban.
Jean Pierre Bolat, parent and now a Board of Education member (making him effectively one of the superintendent’s bosses), filed a formal complaint petitioning to have the book removed from his son’s freshman class after having a conversation with his son regarding the book’s inclusion of themes such as homosexuality, masturbation, sex, and what he calls, a “glorification of alcohol use and drugs.” A review committee decided to keep the book as part of the reading list, but Bolat appealed the decision. In February, Superintendent Salvatore Menzo removed the book from the curriculum, and he has stood by that decision despite opposition. CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project sent a letter advising the school district about the free speech implications of the ban, and local disapproval of the ban is also growing. Connor Reed, a 2014 graduate from the district, started an online petition and Holly Lafond, the mother of a current student, contacted her school’s principal and district administration asking for the book to be reinstated.
Eric Vo with myrecordjournal.com, a Connecticut news source that has been following the ban, spoke with Chbosky, who is offended by Bolat’s attack on his 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.”
Chbosky also reiterates a point that Kids’ Right to Read Project and CBLDF have had to make in many of attempts to ban books:
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.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been widely praised for its candid treatment of teenagers, touching on topics such as suicide, sexual abuse, homosexuality, masturbation, and drug use. These topics have also led to widespread challenges of the book, frequently putting it on ALA’s annual list of the most challenged and banned books. In his comments to Vo, Chbosky discussed the importance of using the book in classrooms and allowing teens to discuss the topics in the book:
“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.”
You can read the rest of Chbosky’s comments here.
The review of Lafond’s request to reinstate the book is scheduled to take place in late April, but Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Shawn Parkhurst expects the decision will be made sooner. Lafond followed the same process as Bolat, and a decision in her favor should restore the book to classrooms. We’ll continue to follow the case and post updates as they become available.