The Catcher in the Rye is the ultimate novel for disaffected youth, but it's relevant to all ages. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a seventeen-year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school.
Throughout, Holden dissects the 'phony' aspects of society, and the 'phonies' themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.
Lazy in style, full of slang and swear words, it's a novel whose interest and appeal comes from its observations rather than its plot intrigues (in conventional terms, there is hardly any plot at all). Salinger's style creates an effect of conversation, it is as though Holden is speaking to you personally, as though you too have seen through the pretences of the American Dream and are growing up unable to see the point of living in, or contributing to, the society around you.
Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliche.
About the Author
J D Salinger was born in 1919. He grew up in New York City, and wrote short stories from an early age, but his breakthrough came in 1948 with the publication in The New Yorker of 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish'. The Catcher in the Rye was his first and only novel, published in 1951. It remains one of the most translated, taught and reprinted texts, and has sold some 65 million copies. It was followed by three other books of short stories and novellas, the most recent of which was published in 1963. He lives in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Like many teenagers, 16-year-old Holden Caulfield doesn't really know what he wants to do, although he is sure that he wants to avoid anything phony.
First published in 1958, no novel betters Salinger's description of Holden's tortured adolescence as he comes to terms with the transition to adulthood and the onset of a nervous breakdown. It's the integrity of Holden's quest for meaning in his life that has made this book so enduringly popular with all ages. Its humour and deceptively light touch help too. This is the teenage novel. -