HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, reissued in 1991
Language level: 5 (pretty raunchy)
Reading level: Though popular among young people, it should be for adults only if anyone
Rating: 0 stars (NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye (publisher in 1951 by Little, Brown and Company). Jerome David Salinger (19192010) was an American author, best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as his reclusive nature. His last original published work was in 1965; he gave his last interview in 1980. Born and raised in Manhattan, NY, Salinger attended public schools on the West Side of Manhattan, then moved to the private McBurney School for ninth and tenth grade. Graduating from the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA, he briefly attended New York University, Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA, and Columbia University. He began writing short stories while in secondary school and published several stories in the early 1940s before serving in World War II. In 1948 he published the critically acclaimed story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his subsequent work. In 1951 he released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the sixteen-year-old protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year. The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny, and Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently.
The Catcher in the Rye was originally published for adults but has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, sexuality, and alienation. The novel’s protagonist and antihero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion. Holden shares encounters he has had with students and faculty of his elite prep school Pencey, whom he criticizes as being superficial, or, as he would say, “phony.” After being expelled from the school for poor grades, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after an altercation with his roommate. He takes a train to New York and instead checks into a dilapidated hotel. There, he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls and has a clumsy encounter with a young prostitute around his age. Holden spends a total of three days in the city, characterized largely by drunkenness and loneliness. Eventually, he sneaks into his parents’ apartment while they are away, to visit his younger sister, Phoebe, who is nearly the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate. After leaving his parents’ apartment, Holden then drops by to see a former, and much admired, English teacher, Mr. Antolini, in the middle of the night, and is offered advice on life and a place to sleep. During the speech on life, Mr. Antolini has a number of “highballs” cocktails. Holden’s comfort is upset when he wakes up in the night to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in a way that he perceives as “flitty.” Holden eventually decides to go home and “face the music”. At the close of the book, Holden alludes to “getting sick” and living in a mental hospital, and mentions that he’ll be attending another school in September.
Because of its nature, this book was kept on a shelf in the librarian’s office in my high school and could be read only with permission. Because I had heard so much about it, I asked the librarian if I could read it, and she said yes. I worked in the library, and the librarian must have felt that I was “responsible” and “mature” enough for it. After I finished it, I wished that I had not read it. While The New York Times hailed it as “an unusually brilliant first novel,” others have noted the book’s monotonous language and the “immorality and perversion” of Holden who uses religious slurs and freely discusses casual sex and prostitution. Catholic World reviewer Riley Hughes spoke of an “excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language.” One diligent parent counted 237 appearances of the word “go**am” in the novel, along with 58 of “ba*t*rd”, 31 of “Chr***ake” and 6 of the “f” word. The story of Caulfield’s flight from what he perceived as the hypocrisies of the adult world, his supposed search for innocence and truth, and his final collapse on a psychiatrist’s couch all glorify rebellion, sexuality, and every other ungodly impulse that seems to characterize the teenage “angst” of the post World War II generation. It has nothing in it of a godly nature to commend it, and I do not recommend it at all. In fact, it surprises me greatly that several “Christian homeschool curricula” use or at least recommend it.