The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Slinger
Book Review by Lindsey Jones
I'm sure everyone has walked into, or crossed one of these books before in their lifetime. Your not really sure what it was about, or you were just curious. Heck, books without a plot summary on the back certainly leave us either intrigued or lukewarm. Despite this book being meant for adults, this is the holy grail of literature for adolescence. The Catcher in the Rye really takes a step back and truly shows what it's like being a teenager desperate for acceptance and discovering who one's self is. On a majority, this book is considered one of the best English written novels of all time. The novel sells about 250,000 each year with sales of more than 65,000,000 books. But that is not what makes it a great book to read. What makes a novel the best of the best, is if you like it. And with this book in particular, you will either love it to death, or hate it's guts.
Holden Caulfield's adventure begins at Pencey Prep, an illustrious, gold-tinted private school located in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. Christmas is just around the corner and all students are ready to see their families over the vacation. However, Holden's residency is only temporary. The boy had recently been expelled and given until after the break to pack up and skedaddle.
Before departing, Holden visits his old history teacher, Mr. Spencer. Not to kiss up to him or anything like that, but to tell him goodbye. Mr. Spencer is a wise-man, but also knows how to do his job. He gives Holden a good scolding about how poor his performance is academically. Holden, in sheer annoyance, reads him a note that he wrote him on the back of his history exam, telling him that it was not his professor's fault for failing him, but his own.
Holden returns to his dorm room. Quiet. Just like he prefers. The rest of the students are at the winter football game and aren't expected to be back for a while. Taking advantage of the wide amount of time he has, Holden starts a new book. Just when he first gets the “feel” of the book, the obnoxious neighbor, Ackley joins. Ackley's profile consists of a family of pimples across his face (of which he usually picks at) and constantly clipping his toenails, much to Holden's annoyance. Ackley barges into Holden's room, picks up things that don't belong to him, and puts them back in the completely wrong place. Ackley treats Holden as if he is in inferior to him because he is merely two years older. The wreck (Ackely) begins to talk about how if Stradlater was around, he'd leave promptly. Much to his demise , Stradlater returns and begs Holden to write his English paper for him. With vague instructions on the criteria for the paper, Holden writes about his brother's baseball mitt, his brother who's life ended early. Stradlater then returns, he is in disgust about the paper Holden had written . Holden is fed up. He doesn't like how ignorant and jughead-like Stradlater is. And what really got him angry is Stradlater not even being able to say his dates name right. Jean Gallagher. A long time friend of Holden's and someone who he is particularly fond of. The two duke it out, Stradlater getting the upper hand. Holden getting a bloody nose. This event officially helps Holden decide that he is done with Pencey and he escapes in the middle of the night and sets for a train to Manhattan three days shy of the winter break.
Holden meets the mother of one of the students at Pencey on the train. Holden knows the student in mind, another of which he dislikes. She's considered the type of mother that believes her children are complete saints. Holden coaxes her into her beliefs, inferring that her son is in fact the best of the best. He arrives at Penn Station and first thinks of a few people he could call, but he ends up not calling anyone. He signals a taxi cab and begins a conversation at random about where the animals at Central Park go in the winter when the water freezes. The driver says that the fish freeze with the water and the ducks go elsewhere, where it is warmer. The conversation carries on, Holden asking the question again and again, as if he is confused.
His ride ends at the Edmont Hotel. A place overran by perverts and drug dealers. After checking into his room, Holden heads for the bar in the hotel. Lying about his age serves him no good. The bartender refuses to give him alcohol despite his claims of being in his twenties. So Holden takes a coke and reverts his attention to the three ladies across the room, obvious tourists. He pays most of his attention to the blonde one, the most attractive. The other two females came up too short face wise. Holden is able to talk to them, but neither of them can hold a descent conversation. He invites the blonde to dance for a while, which works, but she still not paying attention. The night ends with Holden getting his feelings hurt and the only one with the check.
Holden becomes angry and embarrassed and is offered a prostitute. He accepts. He thinks that it'd be easier to hurry and lose his virginity, since he becomes pretty uncomfortable when a girl says “no”. He pays Maurice, the pimp, five dollars for the first hour. The prostitute later comes, and as soon she walks through the door, Holden realizes she is nothing but a kid. He sees her as his equal, and decides to just have a conversation. The girl is clearly uninterested and wants to hurry up and get the deed over with, but Holden asks what she does when she's not selling herself. She says she goes to the movies and just watches shows, which is incredibly boring to Holden. The time is up, and the girl wants her money. Holden is confused because he had just paid her pimp just before she came in. The girl leaves, and later returns with Maurice. Maurice roughens up Holden, and the girl takes the five dollars from his wallet. The terrible two then leave.
Holden walks up the next morning and telephones a girlfriend of his, Sally Hayes. Sally and Holden see a play together. It apparently is one those typical tragic love stories about a guy going to war and leaving his wife behind. He then later returns with no recollection of being married to this woman, and they go through all these trials and tribulations just to end up together in the end. Holden doesn't like the story of course, it was too predictable. They later go to a roller skating rink, in which Holden bombards Sally with the impulse for her to run away with him. Sally scolds him with how ridiculous he sounds, and the lack of money, and the fact that he has no plans or idea what it is like to just “runaway together”. The argument dies down, Holden calling her a “pain in the ass”, leaving Sally fuming. She leaves him, but Holden pleads out to her. He is still ignored. With nothing better else to do, Holden decides to pay his little sister Phoebe a visit.
Holden heads to a park, a specific that Phoebe usually roller skates at. He finds a young girl that looks as if she'd be one of his sisters friends. She tells him that Phoebe is probably at the Museum of Natural History. Holden goes but then realizes that the museum isn't open on Sundays. The boy then diverts a plan and is able to sneak into his parent's apartment, in order to see Phoebe, sound asleep. She wakes up and Holden tells her about a dream he has to be “the catcher in the rye”. A being whom he believes is to save children from straying from their innocence. The Caulfield's return home and Holden sneaks out of the window. He meets his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini. Antolini provides him with a piece of advice and some shelter for awhile. Antolini drowns Holden with information that makes him question what exactly “the catcher in the rye” is. He serves him alcohol, and they sleep. Holden wakes up to Antolini rubbing his head in a way that he describes “flitty” or in more modern terms, homosexual. He gets so uncomfortable that he leaves for the city.
Through all of his confusion, Holden decides to become a deaf mute in west. It's much easier than learning to understand others when they can't understand you. Before leaving, Holden takes his sister to the Central Park Zoo and watches her on the merry-go-round, at this moment, he felt generally happy. He leaves her theres. Holden doesn't exactly make it to his dream life of being a deaf mute in the west. He reduces himself to something much different. He “got sick” and doesn't feel comfortable telling of his current life at a mental hospital. But what does tell us is that he misses Stradlater and Ackely and ultimately regrets telling us about his life and experiences.
Holden spends the rest of his time in New York battling with isolation, drug use, and coming to the understanding of his sexuality. His avoidance of his family allows him to truly understand who he is exactly and be able to make his own decisions. Holden on an all time level, battles himself internally. The people he encounters just revolve around him. He wants acceptance and praise from others, and for others to like him. Which sounds pretty selfish, but doesn't everyone? It is similar to his relationship with his parents. They aren't very engaged or involved with Holden, and this neglect could possibly be a part of why he thinks this way exactly. Without this love and compassion from others, Holden's character doesn't grow throughout the story. Instead he comes to a conclusion and adapts to the situations he is in, in order to fit his liking.
In reading this book, I hope you as a reader can take away that nobody is perfect. And that maybe you could possibly see yourself in Holden Caulfield's shoes. His mind got the best of him, and he let his selfish priorities get in the way of “what could have been”, but that makes him no lesser than human. At one point in our lifetime, everyone has wanted to do something drastic, to get away from everything, to learn who you really are. Holden is just one of the few who actually pursued it.
As a teenager myself, relating to some of the characters is simple. Holden Caulfield possesses the traits of most teenagers and is easily similar to most. Holden suffers from the usual phase of rebellion. But is it just a “phase”? In most stories, the main character usually develops into a better person and grows along with the plot. Holden doesn't show much character growth at all. He's stubborn. What I like about him is that he sets his eyes on what he believes in and doesn't give them up for anyone or anything, even if his decisions might jeopardize him and others. Despite his screw ups and arrogant attitude, Holden is generally a nice person and seems to care about others. One of the things we have in common is setting our goals and letting nothing get in our way of reaching them. Even though his are a bit more drastic, he really speaks up for those who don't dare or take risks.
Overall, I generally do really like this book. Such books that expose youths for who really are, are usually terribly written are impossible to understand. As a reader, you will literally feel as though you are on this long journey with Holden, that only lasted a few days, you might even discover yourself with him. But I do have some small tweaks that I personally think would make the book more appealing for my tastes. One of the main weaknesses of this book is that at some parts, the book can be a bit “dry” and confusing. They're were very few moments like this though. Small incidents in which I had no idea what was going on, or how one situation connected to the next. But you've got to keep in mind that this book is being narrated by Caulfield himself. So I'd forgive the way in which he interprets things. One of the strengths of this book is the simpleness. The author was able to keep me as a reader engaged, without overrunning me with a ridiculous amount of detail or unnecessary information that didn't add to the plot at all. He used simple events, such as Holden in the cab asking about the animals freezing in the winter. I was ears-up to this question and eager to read the answer because it's something I've always wondered myself.
If I could possibly change one thing, it'd be minor. I think this book could have been better if there were a bit more of recurring characters. That I possibly think could have kept Holden's attention, or he made some type of internal bond with, besides Phoebe. But thats only one thing, besides that, this book doesn't really need to change at all!
I mostly recommend this book to adolescence and young adults, but it could possibly be a good read to those much older (the original text was made for adults). Those who want a book that is not hard on the eyes, or the mind. That depicts a main character who's flaws overflow the pages, and is far from cliché. This is not a story you'll read everyday.