Upon noticing the above novel on my bookshelf last week I decided that at the age of 21 it was about time I read the quintessential young adult novel. Some have even called The Catcher In The Rye the first young adult novel, a genre that has become increasingly popular and significant in recent times and could possibly be called my preferred genre. The beauty of the young adult novel is that it can be an umbrella genre and have so many subsections: young adult fantasy (Harry Potter), young adult dystopia (Hunger Games) and young adult contemporary (realism novels like The Fault in our Stars).
The Catcher in the Rye, then, as the first young adult novel is the precursor and model for such authors such as Stephen Chbosky, John Green and David Levithan. So, as these are some of my favourite authors, it was high time that I read the tale of Holden Caulfield.
What is clear, certainly to me as a literary enthusiast and a literature student, is that this novel cannot just be read at face value and discarded. Salinger’s book is a collection of a series of events pertaining to the protagonist, each which accumulate to add more layers to his character and the development of his personality. There are complex issues in this novel, much more so than a simple tale of a rebellious outsider who flees private school for adventures in New York.
The novel deals with subject matter as delicate as abuse, identity, loss, alienation and the gentle sadness of feeling so alone in the middle of the most alive city in the world.
When I first read The Great Gatsby at age 16, I was initially dismissive. Fitzgerald’s book and Salinger’s novel have their similarities in that at first sight both novels seem to be a recounting of a series of events, wherein the characters are of more interest and significance than the actual events and plot lines in the story. With five years having passed between my reading of The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye, I found myself feeling the same initial disappointment as I read that I could not understand the significance of this novel upon first reading.
However, as it was a novel I was studying at school I then went on to unpack and develop the ideas within The Great Gatsby and pull it apart to analyse the themes and language. Now, five years later, I can do this alone with The Catcher in the Rye, and indeed I believe that this is an integral part of reading. One cannot understand Salinger’s true intentions without delving more deeply into his text.
This is what has struck me the most as a reader of The Catcher in the Rye, the intricacies of the novel, which must be understood in order to understand the novel as a whole. As a reader and a lover of literature, I have often found, since my first initial dismissal of The Great Gatsby that it is necessary to unpack and develop a novel in order to understand its true value.
And I will say this to any reader of a young adult novel: the novel itself is often deeper than you think. This much is certainly true for any of John Green’s work, which as an avid follower of his work and synonymously a literature student, I have mulled over and thought about more deeply.
So yes, I would advocate reading The Catcher in the Rye for anyone and everyone. It’s not a difficult read, with simple sentence structures and easy colloquial language, as it is written in Holden’s 17-year-old voice. But it’s complex as a narrative and demands a deeper thought from the reader. Which was very possibly Salinger’s intention and certainly shows the complexities of being a teenager, making it the definitive young adult novel.
Along with The Great Gatsby and Harry Potter alike, it appears to me to be one of those novels that you just have to read, if only to see what the fuss is about. I figure that if you think about it properly when you’re done, you won’t be disappointed.