Okay so I wanted to really like this book as much as I did back in Junior High, but I just didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great book that totally captures teen angst, but I’d be dishonest if I rated it tops amongst some true masterpieces. I believe this book had and will continue to pave the way to jump start disinterested young students into interested readers and for that, it must be applauded.
Set in 1940’s New York and Pennsylvania, a troubled student has been expelled from his fourth prep school and is feeling more alone and isolated than he believes anyone has ever felt. Salinger lets us hear the true coming-of-age voice of self-doubt and loneliness.
The novel’s narrator, Holden Caulfield, recounts in the first person his tale from a psychiatric hospital and the events that led him there. While many teenagers find it difficult to connect to adults, especially parents, Holden, has trouble connecting to both adults and his peers and we see him walk away from people when he becomes uncomfortable with them. His cynical outlook and quick tempered dismissal of others would make him an unlikable character, but you just feel for him, wishing you could tell him to hang on, enjoy the ride and try not to puke too much over all the phonies.
Phoebe Caulfield, Holden’s sister seemed wise beyond her mere ten years. It’s evident that her brother adores her, but she acts the elder in the relationship and shows her mettle by the measures she takes to support Holden. Salinger should have written Phoebe’s story at age 16 recalling life with her brother.
I loved James Castle for the same reason Holden admired him; his integrity. A classmate of Holden’s at Pencey, Castle is known as a shy student who keeps to himself. He is accused of making remarks about another “popular” student and when confronted is told to take the remarks back, he refuses and is beaten by a group of students who again demand he recant. Castle again refuses and hurls himself out a window falling to his death.
Would I enjoy time with the reclusive Salinger? I’m not sure I’d want to ask too much about the topics he so intentionally shunned, but perhaps I’d get him to open up about his time in WWII or his interest in yoga and Dianetics. This is certainly one interesting man.
My rating for The Catcher in the Rye is an 8 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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