The Catcher in the Rye: Book Review

Do you ever read a book where your like, “Okay, so…?” while waiting the entire time for the whole point? Like the shining moment of realization or the great tragedy or even the alien invasion. Something to make you say, “Okay. This is why I read the book.”

That was like The Catcher in the Rye for me. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what J.D. Salinger was doing. I knew that it was a coming of age story about a young man, that a large part was him exploring his sexuality—the good and bad (and there’s quite a lot of the bad). But I just didn’t care. I just couldn’t make myself care about the character. The voice was authentic and real, like I was glimpsing a teenager during the 50s. That was great. The look into the past was illuminating.

I’ve read dozens of classics, so I know that often the real nugget of gold is buried within themes and words. You have to dig it out and polish it up to truly understand. And to be honest, there were some great nuggets of wisdom hidden inside, but…

I didn’t really care.

Let me explain:

The book encompasses a three-day period, starting when 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, the main character, avoids the big prep school football game mostly because he learned that he’s getting kicked out for failing too many classes. Apparently this is a pretty common occurrence. Back in his dorm room, he interacts with a few kids, one his roommate, visits a teacher and decides that he might as well leave school now instead of in three days when the semester ends.

The book details his three days in New York where he’s staying in a dumpy hotel before he goes home for Christmas break and has to face the music. He pays for (but doesn’t use) a prostitute, goes out with a girl, decides to run away, and visits a favorite teacher.

Like any 16 year hold, Holden’s obsessed with sex, but can’t quite seem to get it done. Mostly because he’s a decent guy. You heard the quote:

“In my mind, I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw.”

Well, it comes from this book.

There were three things that saved this book for me:

  1. Holden’s description of his dead brother, Allie, through the English paper he writes for someone else.
  2. Holden’s love for his little sister, Phoebe.
  3. Holden’s desire to be the catcher in the rye

The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s the third that really engrossed me. The idea of being the catcher in the rye:

“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 do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Holden’s greatest desire is to save children. From what? Well, that’s where the layers come in. From death, from adulthood, from danger…so many possibilities.

To be fair, Holden gives several nuggets of wisdom, such as girls always liking the biggest jerks and how being beautiful can forgive all things. So in retrospect, I don’t dislike this book as much as I thought, but it still wasn’t a huge failure. Still, it left me a little…unsatisfied…in the end.

For all of you who I’ve disappointed with my less-than-glowing review, let me know why I’m totally off the mark.

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