Catcher in the Rye – Book Review

She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.” – from The Catcher in the Rye, pages 224-225 –

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye is narrated entirely from the point of view of sixteen year old Holden Caulfield – a boy on the cusp of manhood who is trying to find his way in the world of adults. Holden’s ambivalence about becoming a man is evident from the beginning. He is a cynical, immature teenager who is full of angst. The novel is really a retrospective covering a narrow time frame that begins when Holden is kicked out of an expensive prep school and extends over about four days as he takes the train back to his home in New York City and encounters various other characters. Holden Caulfield is not likable – he is antagonistic, smokes incessantly, and uses foul language in nearly every sentence. He is also a rather unreliable narrator, a boy who overcompensates for his insecurities by being jaunty and full of himself.

Thematically the novel covers issues of isolation, sexuality, and teenage angst. Caulfield’s struggle to understand mature sexual relationships plays a large role in the story. Faced with the terrifying leap over the cliff into adulthood, Caulfield sinks into a depression as the novel progresses.

The story has a rambling style of run on sentences filled with pithy dialogue. There were times when I grew tired of Caulfield’s negative voice. If I had to live with this kid I would probably want to shake him until his head snapped back and forth on his scrawny neck. Despite those moments, there were times I wanted to like his character – he is a boy who loves writing and reading, and beneath his tough exterior is a sensitive kid who has no idea how to grow up.

The Catcher in the Rye has been a controversial novel since it was first published in the mid-twentieth century. Censored and challenged as part of high school reading lists, it has come under fire for its profanity, sexual themes, and teenage rebellion. I thought it rather tame compared to some of the other literature I’ve read.

I can’t say I really enjoyed this book. It is a quick read, but grew tiresome for me. I can see how it would appeal to teens – especially boys. I don’t really understand the idea of censorship or challenges for books like this…to me they are great places to start a dialogue with teens. Although I’m glad I finally got around to reading The Catcher in the Rye (for some reason I never read this novel as a teenager), it isn’t a tome I could recommend to other adult readers.

Just an average read that some might like –

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  1. How did you happen to pick this book to read, Wendy? I read it back in high school (but only vaguely remember it!). I’ll likely read it again when my kids have it on their syllabus.

    • Alyce on June 20, 2010 at 14:28

    I didn’t read this in high school either, but my mother-in-law read it several years ago and told me the gist of it. I thought at the time that it probably wouldn’t strike a chord with me. I still haven’t felt the need to read it, but who knows – maybe someday.

    • Aths on June 20, 2010 at 18:14

    I read this one only last year, but I did love it. I guess it is possibly because I was a student (grad) when reading it, and it was not too long since I was in UG. I did feel that Holden’s feelings were more intense than I had ever experienced, but I was still very much into his mind.

    • Staci on June 20, 2010 at 18:22

    I felt pretty much the same way when I read it for the first time a few years ago.

    • Wendy on June 20, 2010 at 19:13

    Dawn: One of my Yahoo book groups was reading and discussing it this month, so I picked up a copy. I had been wanting to read Salinger because it is classic, too.

    Alyce: Well, if you don’t get to it, I can’t say you are missing a lot.

    Aths: I think it probably resonates more with younger people (I’m nearly 50!).

    Staci: Good to know I’m not alone 🙂

  2. “If I had to live with this kid I would probably want to shake him until his head snapped back and forth on his scrawny neck.”

    Well put. That’s pretty much the way I felt throughout the entire novel. I agree that it might appeal more to younger teens, but the writing style is something I just can’t imagine anyone liking. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I wasn’t a big fan of this book either. I would love to know whether I’d have loved it as a teenager, but as an adult it is a disappointing read.

    • Andi on June 21, 2010 at 08:15

    Ahh yes. It’s a tough book for women especially if we read this book as full-blown adults. I could still get into it when I was 21, but now I suspect I’d have a much harder time.

    Although, it still remains my fave title in all of literature. I love the backstory to the title that Salinger provides in the text.

    • Serena on June 21, 2010 at 09:35

    I enjoyed this book well enough when I was younger, but like you, I think my perspective and tolerance for the main character would be different now. I was definitely full of angst when I read this one and could relate on some level with the character, but he would probably grate on my nerves now.

    • Tracee on June 21, 2010 at 12:03

    I read this book in high school and have to say I really did not enjoy it. My mom thinks I’m crazy because it’s one of her favorites. To each their own.

    • Wendy on June 23, 2010 at 07:18

    Melinda: LOL – glad I wasn’t too extreme in my reaction to Holden!

    Jackie: Looks like we once again agree 🙂

    Andi: I know a lot of people who list this as a favorite read. I wish I’d liked it more 🙁

    Serena: I don’t think I have much tolerance for angst these days! Must be my age – I think I may be getting a little fuddy duddy!

    Tracee: I agree – to each their own! Glad to know some people share my view 🙂

  4. I thought it was just “okay” too. I still can’t quite figure out why it is considered a classic.

  5. I tried to read this when I was in high school (years ago!) and didn’t see the appeal then (I didn’t finish the book), so I can’t imagine I’ll ever read it in its entirety.

    • Wendy on June 28, 2010 at 06:40

    Kathleen: I agree – I don’t really think this book is a classic by my definition. But, I guess some people love it.

    Avis: I can’t recommend you read it … to me it was so average as to be disappointing.

  6. Yeah, my feeling is that I’m unlikely to enjoy it more now than I did when I was 14 or 15 or whenever it was I tried to read it the first time!

    • Wendy on June 28, 2010 at 06:48

    Avis: I agree – it is really a book for teens, I think…and I think teen BOYS more than girls…I think you can safely walk away from this one and not miss a thing 🙂

    • Amanda on July 1, 2010 at 06:04

    I’ve read this book twice now and neither time did it appeal to me. In fact, when I read it earlier this year, it was because I’d read it in 2001 and didn’t remember anything about it at all.

    • J.G. on July 3, 2010 at 16:34

    I’m sorry to hear so many people don’t like this book. I re-read it as an adult and found it even more meaningful. Despite its apparently colloquial storytelling, it’s beautifully crafted in various ways (such as Holden’s memories of his dead brother and relationship with his living sister). The language and situations are a little dated now, but Holden’s reluctance to join in on the “phoniness” of adults has not lost its lustre for me.

    Just my two cents!

    • Wendy on July 4, 2010 at 17:17

    Amanda: Well, I don’t think I will re-read it 🙂 Thanks for dropping by!

    J.G. I always welcome differing views here, so I thank you for coming by and sharing your thoughts on this classic…it is nice to get a balance of opinions!

    • Yueng Castilliond (Duc N.) on September 25, 2012 at 20:36

    I recently read this book for my high school summer assignment. I really enjoyed it as it really appealed to me being a teenage boy and all. It’s true that the book has come across great controversy, but I would consider it a classic. It really delves into the teenage mind and shines a light on how difficult it is to deal with the loss of a loved one. Holden’s storytelling, albeit exaggerated and “phony” in a sense, made the book an easier, more fun read.

    • Marisa on January 6, 2013 at 18:24

    I just finished reading this book for a project in school and loved it! I am a teenage girl and realize this would probably be a book aimed more towards my age group, but thought it was a great story. The writing i agree is not fantastic, but by far one of my favorites!

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