Friday, January 21, 2011

YA Lit Week One: The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger - 1951

This is the first book for week one of my YA Lit course. I will also have a review up for The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton by Tuesday night.

Course Theme for the Week: "Introduction to the Course (1-26-2011)"
Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger
Year: 1951
Date Read: 1-21-2011
Overall: * * * * * (5/5)

GoodReads Blurb: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

My Review (aka What can this book offer to young adults?): One of the most amazing things about this book is how much I get out of it each time I read it. Holden is just barely hanging on as he wanders through New York. There is such a feeling of hopelessness as he goes from person to person and situation to situation trying desperately to find someone who will not just talk to him, but listen to him. He is so obviously alone and lonely. At the same time, it feels very hopeful to me, because he keeps trying and keeps going for the next person.
Everything in the book sort of contradicts itself, even Holden, constantly. Even the title is sort of wrong, since he learns from his sister Phoebe that the poem goes "If a body see a body..." not "catch a body." When he tells Phoebe he would like to be the person catching kids from going over the edge, it became clear to me that he is also hoping that there's somebody else catching him from going over the edge.
I think for first time readers of this book, it will be hard to pick up on a lot of the symbolism and the layers of the story. The red hunting hat, the questions about the ducks in central park, the difference in the Holden in the story and the Holden telling the story, etc. A second read of this book feels necessary to me. A lot of teenagers might be able to relate to the loneliness and hopelessness that Holden experiences, and that there are only a few things that really make Holden feel anything close to happiness. Life is hard, and it can really suck sometimes, but throughout the whole book, even when it feels like Holden might end up dead in some way, the reader can tell that he is alive, because he is telling the story, which gives this nice underlining of hope, even to those as lonely as Holden.

To Buy: Amazon

Books Read This Year: 7

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