[trigger warning: child sexual abuse]
I really like the perks of being a wallflower but today I realized—
a significant part of its success is because it is ugly, but not too ugly about child sexual abuse.
like I understand that a large chunk of the csa storyline is rarely said directly, only implied, so that the reader can connect the dots at the big reveal at the end.
but this literary decision also has the effect of giving us basically nothing about how completely terrible Charlie’s experience was.
we are given this message that Charlie has fond feelings for his abuser, not conflicted or even some reasonable semblance of anger.
Charlie is this polite, docile survivor who has crises but never acts out too much. he is never too loud or too angry or too bitter. someow he maintains this perfect, unblemished idealism even as he starts to figure out how fucked up things really were.
we get this nice, full circle story that resolves itself and makes the reader believe that Charlie is going to be okay, precisely marketed so as to not offend a broad audience with how ugly and disgusting and terrible child sexual abuse actually is. instead, this hipster kid “coming-of-age” oh-look-i-made-a-cd-with-the-smiths-on-it bullshit overshadows everything.
and indeed, growing up, basically all the kids my age who read this book never once mentioned child sexual abuse or rape. this book let privileged white kids feel “less alone” but it didn’t make anyone angry and make them want to change things for the better. it’s an apolitical text that gives people warm fuzzies with a child sexual abuse plot point as a tacked on afterthought for better marketing.
no seriously I can’t believe I didn’t realize this until now.
fuck this book and the pretending bullshit it is. it meant a lot to me as a kid. it did. it helped me feel less alone. but it offered very little guidance. it barely even tells the reader that what happened is not okay. in fact, it even normalizes it a little and casts it in this nostalgic, rose-colored haze. that alone is fucking dangerous and unacceptable.
you might say it’s only one book but do you know how many realistic, insightful, and well-written texts there are about child sexual abuse? barely a handful. out of the sea of books I read as a kid, only one book of 100000 others ever tackled this topic— Speak. one single book.
so when another single book becomes elevated in the way this one has, and its message is half-assed and possibly dismissive…that is not okay. that is the mass market yet again deciding that the concerns of survivors matter less than everyone else. that is our very ugly and horrible experiences being compressed and sanitized so that people can read about what happened to us and even enjoy it vicariously in a fucked up voyeuristic way.
I mean I am talking about things so horrible that when non-survivors hear about them they fuckin puke up their guts. but I’m not even asking for a book to delve into that darkest of darkness. I’m just asking for a book that doesn’t happily tie together the story as if everything is going to be okay, because it rarely is.
I’m asking for a book that is about child sexual abuse that is written for survivors, not written with us as a tertiary concern. because if I’d had a book like Bastard Out of Carolina when I was twelve then maybe it wouldn’t have taken me five more years before I could even name my experience as child sexual abuse. yes, it took me that long because there is such an immense absence of this type of content available for people that you pretty much have to get lucky. this book could have been one desperately needed text to fill a little place in that void, but instead it became just another book written for everyone except people like me.
fuck this. this book is bullshit.
Someone on my dash posted about how they hated this book and it was horrible for them. So I thought about it and I realized yes, it is pretty fuckin awful.
I really can’t believe I didn’t get this until now. But it makes sense— I was so lost and so desperate for something, anything, that even the little crumbs this book tossed me gave me reason to lift it up on a pedestal.