Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye

It’s difficult to write about J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. There’s so much that’s already been said about it, I think it’s far too easy to come across as trite or sentimental. The first time I read The Catcher in the Rye was in high school. I was on a banned books tear, and ended up reading several books (all written by white men, of course) that I find myself returning to from time to time. This most recent reading of Salinger’s best-known book will be my fourth (or fifth?) read through.
I had expected to read this book through the lens of my inward and awkward 14-year-old self. At the same time I also knew that all of those years as a young woman of color and the difficult truths that sometimes come with that social location can rear up, casting a strong line between who I was and who I am. But here I am, having just finished this book again.
I still love it.
Unlike other books I’ve read, this one still retains a quality of being unknowable. Reading this book felt like riding on an airplane. It was an experience that was crafted to be felt a certain way, and most of the time it feels like that—most of the time it feels like flying through the sky sitting in a small chair and eating a tiny bag of even tinier pretzels. But every once in a while you begin to feel all the machinery working all around you to keep you alive and that calls to mind all the people doing all the invisible work that makes it possible for you to get from one place to another. All you can do is marvel at it and feel incredibly lucky to be a witness.
But I digress.
Even though it’s been 16 years since I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I’d say that the biggest difference in that intervening time strictly in terms of reading this book was that I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I kept thinking back to The Bell Jar. Isn’t that inevitable in a way? Both books explore white, teenage, middle-/upper-class mental health and both rely on narrators who have been institutionalized. It’s interesting to think about how desperation is manifested differently in separate places and times. I was desperate when I first picked up The Catcher in the Rye, and reading about some rich boy in the 1940’s having the same feelings and thoughts I had made me feel both infinitely more alone and more connected. Reading it now, reading it older, some of those feelings were still there, but mostly they’ve been replaced by a kind of tenderness for Holden’s hurt and misunderstanding.
The Catcher in the Rye reminded me that hurt is hurt and that often the best gift is our ability to listen.