Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (3/5)

29 Dec

I never read this book in high school. I had a cousin say I should read it a few years ago but kept putting it off. I was shocked there wasn’t an audiobook easy to pick up for it so it didn’t come up sooner. I mentioned to my reading buddy that I hadn’t read it and she remembered liking it in high school and was game for a re-read. And so we started.

Cover image via Amazon

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Summary from Goodreads:

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

I’m not sure what I expected from this book. I knew that Holden would be an unreliable narrator, but that was about all I came into it with. I wasn’t a big fan of Holden and that held me back from liking the book. I felt bad for him at times, but not enough that he was endearing or sympathetic.

Holden seemed to be struggling with something and it was hard to put my finger on what it was. His issues seemed to be larger than adolescence. I wondered at times if he was bipolar, ADHD, or Autistic. It made me wonder about how he would be treated in 2020 when diagnostics and treatments for such conditions are more accessible. Maybe he wouldn’t have been kicked out of so many schools or living on his own in New York for three days. If nothing else, he would have a cell phone to call his sister. 

Phoebe was by far my favorite character. She was so kind and loving. She knew her brother was having problems at school and she still loved him because that didn’t matter to her. What mattered was that he loved her and she loved him. She was very kind and giving and it was easy to see why she was so special to Holden.

I related best to Mr. Spencer at the beginning of the book and I think that shows how little I related to most of the novel. I wanted to encourage Holden and it was hard to want to help him when he kept pushing away anyone who showed interest in him. He was rude to Sally and Mr. Antolini and everyone except Phoebe. I thought Mr. Spencer had wonderful intentions and wanted to help Holden more than most, but he was pushed aside and dismissed because of his age. I was so frustrated.

J.D. Salinger
Image via Amazon

I thought Holden’s time in the hotel was the most interesting. I realized how long he’d gone without sleep and was loving the crazy shenanigans he got into while he was doing everything he could to stay awake. Between the bars, the hooker, and setting up dates with Sally, he kept me entertained and I was wondering when he would finally crash.

The ending of the book was a big disappointment to me and I’m going to spoil it so please skip ahead if you want to avoid that. I felt the ending was far too abrupt. The nice afternoon with Phoebe was lovely. It’s clear something traumatic happened when Holden’s parents found out he’d been kicked out again. I’m wondering if the facility he’s in is a psychiatric treatment facility and he’s telling the story to a therapist. He seems to be in some sort of in-patient treatment but I couldn’t get a good sense of what from the short final chapter. It left me feeling frustrated. Maybe I needed an English teacher to explain it to me.

Our perceptions of ourselves and the way others perceive us is so different. Holden constantly complains about people being phony and then does the same things he complains about in others. He perceives his own actions as justified but can’t seem to justify the same actions in others. Several times, we see others say that he’s not aware of how he speaks or how his questions are received and doesn’t recognize that others are uncomfortable. We are all the heroes of our own stories.

Writer’s Takeaway: Salinger does a great job of creating a strong voice in Holden. We can get a better understanding of him and how he thinks from the internal dialogue (or storytelling) we get from him. It reminded me of Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now. It is a great way to tell about a character with a strong personality and sense of self. I think it gave the story an edge it could never have had. Holden’s story couldn’t have been told another way.

The characters annoyed me and the ending fell flat. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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11 Responses to “Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (3/5)”

  1. Rae Longest December 29, 2020 at 7:57 PM #

    As an adolescent in high school, I read it and thought, “You go, Holden, you tell them all!” I studied it again in college in Adolescent Literature and wanted to turn him over my knee. I think it’s all in the perspective of the reader!


    • Sam December 30, 2020 at 9:50 AM #

      Exactly. If I’d read it when I was younger, I think I would have liked it a lot more. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Davida Chazan December 31, 2020 at 11:24 AM #

    It stood up to the test of time for many, many years, but I think it isn’t as relevant anymore…


    • Sam December 31, 2020 at 3:08 PM #

      Interesting. I tried to put it in a historical context when I read it and it didn’t help me much. Happy reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Davida Chazan December 31, 2020 at 11:25 PM #

        I hear you. What gets me is that they still make it compulsory reading for High School students – as the classic “coming-of-age” story. But kids today are so different than they were back then, that I don’t think they can identify with it anymore. Surely there are TONS of more modern coming-of-age novels that schools could give kids to read that they’d be able to identify with more readily. I worry that books like this are preventing schools from encouraging the younger generation to read for pleasure!


      • Sam January 2, 2021 at 5:48 PM #

        That’s a great point. I didn’t read it in school (graduated high school 08) but I know the year before me did. I wonder if I was the beginning of phasing it out. Happy reading!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Davida Chazan January 3, 2021 at 12:47 AM #

        I think people should still read it, but I think it should be for either AP English students or college students. Schools need to inspire young people to read, and I can give you at least one novel that I think would be a better choice for teaching “coming of age” stories to high school students. The Universe vs Alex Woods by Gavin Extence – here’s my review

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ryan January 11, 2021 at 2:30 AM #

    I felt similarly about the book overall, but I found myself sympathizing with Holden more than I expected to by the end. I began to see the story as a massive depressive episode, his three days in NYC being him struggling to find a personal connection with something/someone. I guess I associate depression a lot with trying to do something you feel you ought to enjoy, but you find you just can’t no matter how hard you try, and I could feel that through his experiences. It struck home most for me when Phoebe asks him to tell her about something he actually likes, but he isn’t able to answer.


    • Sam January 11, 2021 at 7:33 AM #

      I think that view makes a lot of sense. He seemed to try a lot of different things to be enjoying himself but was unable to. I just couldn’t get past his lying. I couldn’t see any excuse for it. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Grace December 9, 2022 at 3:04 PM #

    I think what Holden is suffering from is severe PTSD. His brother died at a young age from cancer, he witnessed a boy committing suicide, and he might have been molested (based on what he said at the end of the chapter with Mr Antolini, the possibly-pedo teacher).

    He’s not necessarily a likable character, but that’s understandable. He’s having some sort of a mental breakdown, talking to his dead brother Allie, yelling crazy at Sally without realizing it, and everything else. It’s hard to be likable when you’re that depressed. He’s not a heroic character or anything, he’s a mentally ill, sad kid.

    I guess you can say the ending is abrupt without context, but it makes sense, since it’s mostly symbolic. After seeing the “fuck you’s” Holden came to the realization that you can’t erase all the fuck you’s in the world; and when he saw Phoebe on the carousel, he realized that he can’t be the “catcher in the rye” and everyone has to grow up. The rain is symbolic, since it’s like baptism. It’s a new beginning and rebirth for Holden. There’s a lot of great symbolism in the book IMO.

    The facility he’s in is 100% a psychiatric facility, and chances are, the reader is his psychotherapist! But probably nothing tragic happened after the book, the events of the book are the tragic event, his mental breakdown.

    Sorry this is so long, Catcher is just one of my favorite books, I had to try to explain and defend it! It’s not usually my type of read (I’m more of a Jane Austen kinda girl) but I think it’s just a great book.



  1. Challenge Update, December 2020 | Taking On a World of Words - January 4, 2021

    […] Glow // Kaitlin Sandeno and Dan D’Addona (3/5) The Cather in the Rye // J.D. Salinger (3/5) A Burnable Book // Bruce Holsinger […]


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