Ah, the ineluctable allure of the illicit. There is no more effective way to stoke desire than to cut off supply channels. Better yet, erect a moral or legal “No Trespassing” sign and an insatiable mob of transgression-jonesing junkies will materialize like zombies at a brain buffet. And yet despite these established patterns of human behavior, the crusade to ban certain books thought to corrupt young minds continues unabated even as it spikes literary contraband to the top of bestseller lists and box office charts.
It’s become something of a badge of honor (or honesty, really) among coming-of-age novels in particular to land on the American Library Association’s list of Frequently Challenged Books. By that standard, The Perks of Being a Wallflower established its bona-fides early and often. The film version of novelist-turned-filmmaker Stephen Chbosky’s semi-autobiographical story of a soulful misfit’s initiation into a high school wonderland of sex, drugs, and mix tapes hits theaters on Friday with a healthy head of pre-release buzz at least partially in thanks to its position among the top ten most banned/challenged books of the past decade, alongside such other infectious iniquity as Of Mice and Men, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and the entire Harry Potter series.
Wallflower has been targeted for censorship by concerned parents groups and cultural conservatives for its “sexual situations and gay-positive themes” since shortly after it was first published in 1999. It quickly became a fuel source for Fox News bombast after being banned by schools in Massachusetts and New York and coming close in Wisconsin. Chbosky has taken it upon himself to put out whatever brushfires he can by writing letters to school boards and concerned parties, explaining that the most common offending passage — a graphic description of a date rape — was not designed to titillate but rather to depict the horror of the event.
Chbosky’s novel could be a case study in how to write a banned bestseller. It possesses many of qualities most irresistible to moral gadflies: masturbation, sexual experimentation, and salty language. But the trait most common to to all banned works of any literary merit involves a truth-telling account of disenchantment with the status quo or innocence lost. In fact, many of the best coming-of-age stories and young adult novels have been censored in one way or another. And the attention and controversy surrounding these works has often translated into success in a variety of media, from The Hunger Games to The Outsiders. Some of the best banned buildungsromans have eluded Hollywood’s grasp for one reason or another.
In the event that Wallflower‘s popularity extends to the big screen, here’s our list of challenged and challenging tales of troubled youth most glaringly absent from the canon of coming-of-age adaptations. Feel free to suggest a few of your favorite controversy-courting classics.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle: This genre-bending story of young Meg Murray’s journey through multiple dimensions and alternate realities to resolve the dissonance at home had been adapted into a stilted TV movie. Redemption may not be far off: Jeff Stockwell, who cracked the code to another banned young adult classic, Bridge to Terabithia, is currently working on a big-screen adaptation.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This is a pipe dream. Holden Caulfield wouldn’t be caught dead on a movie screen. And there’s not a chance in hell Salinger’s estate would ever let a bunch of Hollywood phonies get their mitts on this masterwork of adolescent angst.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: This hilariously profane and profound account of growing up on a Native American Reservation follows fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit’s attempts to cope with a life filled with domestic abuse, alcohol, poverty, and bullying.
Black Boy by Richard Wright: This survival memoir tracks Wright’s hard-kn0ck upbringing from the Deep South to Chicago’s mean streets, where he finds redemption in the Communist Party and his ability to write.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Morrison’s debut novel follows young Pecola, who survives an unending litany of hardships, from incest to teen pregnancy, by escaping into fantasies of an alternate life as a blue-eyed white girl.