Holden Caulfield, about to be kicked out of yet another boarding school for flunking most of his courses, decides not to wait until the end of term and takes off for his hometown, Manhattan, a few days early. He figures he’ll hole up in a cheap hotel, look up a few friends, then arrive home on time. But Holden is deeply troubled by the death of his beloved younger brother from leukemia, as well as a classmate’s suicide. Alone in an uncaring city, his already fragile psyche begins to unravel.
Holden Caulfield holds a place in the American psyche akin to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer: an exquisitely rendered character with whom nearly anyone can identify. There are three true things that can be said about J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece: It is one of the great works of American literature, it is one of the most frequently challenged by would-be book-banners, and, therefore, it is one of the most misunderstood books of the 20th century. It has been challenged and banned for all of the reasons mentioned above in the content advisories. But those who challenge it fail to see the forest for the little swearword trees. They have called Holden a cynical teenager, when in fact he’s such a compassionate innocent abroad that he can hardly cope with the cynical world at all: He’s so innocent and so alone that he tries to get a prostitute to just chat and keep him company (alas, no heart of gold here). Desperately lonely, adrift in what seems to him an uncaring world, he has been through some terrible experiences, and no one at all seems to have noticed that he’s crumbling.
It’s true that much of it is somewhat dated now. Yet there’s a reason this book has stayed in print, is stocked in nearly every bookstore, and has been assigned in nearly every high school for the past 60-plus years: Its emotional power and poignancy are still as strong as ever, and Holden’s inner self is just as recognizable to teens today as it has ever been. This is one of those books that people either love or hate.
I loved it.