Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mention The Catcher in the Rye and you’re likely to get one of two reactions: loved it or hated it. I’ve read this story three times now and each time, I’ve loved it. I know a lot of high school kids groan when you mention Holden Caulfield and I get that because, in some ways, I don’t think he’s relatable to modern teenagers. The boarding school and wealthy Manhattan experiences are not something typical high schoolers connect with. But I think his character’s troubled emotions and vulnerability evoke a sympathy that everyone can see.

The story takes place sometime after World War II at Pencey Prep, a boarding school in Pennsylvania. It is narrated by Holden Caufield, a troubled sixteen-year-old student who has flunked every class except English, and has just been kicked out of Pencey. The headmaster has mailed the letter, notifying his parents, but in the interim, Holden moves in a sort of limbo. Something has made him not care, on the surface, but as you get to know Holden, you realize the weight of his depression and how deeply he cares about people in his life, especially his siblings and a girl he knows from summers in Maine.

With a few days before his parents find out, Holden bounces between reckless impulses, and he’s on a dangerous spiral, all the while giving the reader glimpses of who he is and the relationships that are important to him. He’s a skilled liar, making things up, as a lark, or to avoid facing his reality.

Every time I read Holden’s story, I can see him unraveling, word by word, and I’m struck by how clearly he sees through the phoniness that surrounds him. He’s particularly bothered by his brother’s decision to become a Hollywood writer, something he sees as a sell-out. In addition, he seethes inwardly as his roommate, Stradlater, moves about their room in an air of conceit and privilege. When Stradlater talks about his date with a girl Holden knows, he can’t even bother to get her name right. “It’s Jane, not Jean,” Holden wants to tell Stradlater, but he knows his roommate won’t care.

Holden talks about his friendship with Jane, a girl he met in Maine and has comforted, held hands with and feels most himself around. “That doesn’t sound like much, I realize, but she was terrific to hold hands with.” Equally important is Holden’s relationship with his brother Allie, who died when they were kids, and his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, who both needs Holden and props him up enough to give him hope.

It doesn’t seem as if anyone can see that Holden is headed for a crash, or it might be that they can do nothing to stop him. I don’t get mad at him for his reckless decisions. I only want someone to catch him.

If you’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye, I’d give it a try. And if you’ve already read it, leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

51 thoughts on “Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

  1. HI, Barbara – Thank you for sharing this review. I am one of those people who read this book when I was too young for it. It greatly disturbed me and I have not reread it since. I know that I should give it another try as an adult. Deep breath!

    1. That’s interesting – my thoughts were that a teenager might be annoyed by Holden, but later might understand him. But everyone has a different experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, JT!

    1. Hi Noelle – definitely a classic. I think modern high schoolers are too distant from his experience, but if they read it later, they may see what’s going on with Holden and sympathize. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I only just read this book last year for the first time. At first, the main character annoyed me but as I continued reading, I realized he was hurting badly and was one of those poor little rich kids who needed attention. The dialogue and writing are dated, but that is what adds to the charm, in my opinion.

    1. Hi Darlene – each time I read it I see more of how Holden suffers. I agree the dialogue and writing are dated, but it’s accurate to the time, and in contrast to modern ideas and attitudes. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

    1. Hi Lynette – it’s dated, but I think the teenage angst on top of Holden’s deeper problems carry into modern experiences, despite the falseness of boarding school and upper class characters, which Salinger is criticizing, IMO. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I also love it. I first read it in my early twenties and Holden annoyed me. I read it again a couple of years ago in my late fifties and I wanted to give him a hug and explain that his parents were struggling too much with their own grief to help him with his.

    1. That’s why I keep re-reading these classics. I get more out of them the second or third time. Although I re-read Franny and Zooey, which I had loved in college – but I had no idea what it was about the second time. I felt like it went way over my head! Thanks for visiting 🙂

  4. Great review. I’m in the “Love It” camp. I read it in my teen years and read it again a few years ago and it spoke to me both times, on different levels. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not, but I understand Holden.

    I appreciate your reviews. I rarely comment, but I always love reading them.

  5. I’m a hater — but I think that’s because I read it when I was young and maybe couldn’t or didn’t look beneath the surface at all. I appreciate your review! I think I probably should read it again and see if my perspective has changed after all these years.

    1. Hi Lisa – a lot of people feel that way. A younger person might get too frustrated with Holden and not relate. I read it as a mother this time and it really got me! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience 🙂

  6. What a blast from the past, Barbara! I believe my grandsons may be reading this now in AP English. It strikes me that because Holden is a “skilled liar” he’d be a great fiction writer – ha!

  7. Barbara, from your review I feel as if I’ve never read the book! 😀 Indeed it was one of our set books for our curriculum at school and oddly enough one I remember not enjoying, now Keats, Milton, Sheridan I recall with fondness. I feel my young years may not have given this book justice and one to revisit. Many thanks for your eloquent review!

    1. Hi Annika – I get that. I like re-reading books I read when I was in school because I have a completely different experience. I remember loving Of Human Bondage in college. I tried to read it about 10 years later and I couldn’t even understand it! I may try that again, though. I studied Keats and Milton in college too, but I don’t recall Sheridan. What did he/she write? Thanks for reading and commenting, too 🙂

      1. Richard Sheridan was an Irish playwright in the late 1700s/early 1800s known for his satirical plays called comedy of manners. Blimey, what a title Of Human Bondage and I know that feeling of not being able to understand books from years earlier. Reckon our minds were just programmed differently then! 😀

      2. Haha I think so, Annika. Yes, that title is something, isn’t it? I had not thought about it much, but I remember the main character has a club foot and his disability consumes him. Thanks for telling me about Richard Sheridan. I’ll have to look him up in one of my college anthologies – I’ll be he’s in there!

    1. Hi Priscilla – I think when I re-read a book, especially if it’s years later, I have a completely different perspective. Even though I loved Catcher in the Rye each time, this time I read it more as a mother. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

    1. Hi Jeff – I read Franny and Zooey twice, once in college and again about 10 years ago. I confess I didn’t understand what I was reading the second time but I remember really liking it the first time. I’m going to try it again. Did you like Nine Stories? I haven’t read that. Thanks for the visit!

      1. It was a really long time ago that I read it, over 30 years ago. I remember liking it, but that is all I can say. I still have my old copy, so I may read again, but there are oh so many books to read. I just don’t have the time 😉

      2. I know, Jeff. Same here. I’m pretty sure I still have a copy of Franny and Zooey too. I should probably try it again. The second time I read it was when I had 4 little kids running around – I may not have had the ability to concentrate! Hope you are doing well 🙂

  8. I may have read this book years ago when I was young but, if I did, it made no lasting impression on me. My husband read it recently due to hearing a lot of ‘hype’ about it. He wasn’t at all impressed, but I was impressed that he read it as he’s not a reader usually.

    1. Hi Norah – I get that your husband didn’t like it. Holden Caufield can be a hard character to like. We can’t like every book out there, right? Thanks for visiting and commenting 🙂

      1. You got it right, Barbara. It was probably a strange one for him to tackle. He’s still curious about it though, so it made an impact.

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