When Elizabeth and I decided to do a Banned Book Week series of posts, I knew without a doubt that The Catcher in the Rye would be my first banned book review. I’ve been meaning to read it for years because so many people have told me that its their favorite book (a lot of people who aren’t particularly fond of reading, in fact). I was going to happy hour at one of my favorite local dive bars, when I noticed a used book sale next door. From there, I noticed a pristine copy of The Catcher in the Rye for $1.99. I couldn’t resist! I started devouring it shortly after.
This book may be one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m starting my third year of working closely with teenagers, and the voice of the seventeen year old narrator, Holden Cauffield is so arresting and real from the moment the story begins. He is your typical teenager – nothing is his fault, he’s not bad at anything, he has a psychic mother and most activities of his peers are (in his opinion) beneath him. He’s at the same time heartbreakingly honest and unassumingly hilarious. I had been warned before I began the book that Holden is a very unlikeable character. I completely disagree. There’s no question that he’s deeply flawed, but I love him. J.D. Salinger is truly a literary genius, because no character has ever taken on such a life of his own for me.
The novel covers one lengthy adventure after Holden has been expelled from school. It reads as one big flashback, as Holden is rehabilitating from (he says) tuberculosis, but by the end of the book, I (as a reader) questioned his diagnosis and role as a reliable narrator. Nonetheless, this character is navigating a coming of age tale full of hard knocks and his loyalty and adoration of his siblings and family is admirable. Disillusioned with the loss of innocence he sees all around him, Holden often displays several signs of clinical depression – most notably, apathy. He often comes up with very detailed plans of action, then at the last minute doesn’t carry them out, because he “doesn’t feel like it”. The conversational tone transports the reader into Holden’s thoughts seamlessly, and it is just such a wonderful read.
Many of the phrases and references are dated (the book was written in 1945), but several aspects are hauntingly relevant in today’s schools. In particular, Holden remembers an incident when a boy who was frequently picked on jumped out of a window to his death after being confronted by a group of boys he insulted. Holden’s very human reactions of sadness, loss, and distaste are flawlessly portrayed.
I can see why the book is not for readers of all ages – there are quite a few incidences of bad language and a run-in with a prostitute. But it’s a fabulous piece of literature that everyone should read at some point in their life. I’m adding it to my list of favorite, and giving it 5 stars. ★★★★★