Back to the Classics challenge seemed a good opportunity.
The book follows three days in the life of a sixteen-year-old boy, Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from school. It is told in the first person, and is really just a peek inside his thoughts as he packs up his things, leaves his school room-mates behind and takes himself off to New York to lie low in a hotel before going back home to his parents. The strength of the novel lies not so much in what happens, but in what Holden thinks and feels about the world around him.
Holden isn't a particularly nice boy and it takes a while to warm to him. He's in that fortunately short-lived phase of life when he's too old to view the world with a child's happy acceptance, and not old enough to settle into an adult's quiet resignation. Holden finds almost every adult "phoney" and despises almost everyone he knows. He has a strong sense of injustice and refuses to settle in the way that most adults soons learn to.
But Holden does have a softer side. He was profoundly affected by the death of his younger brother, whom he loved and admired, and he has a lovely relationship with his little sister, Phoebe. He also thinks fondly of a girl he used to know back home and becomes seriously agitated when he learns that she is going on a date with his room-mate, who Holden fears will take advantage of her.
Is The Catcher in the Rye worthy of all the high praise it gets? Well, as an insight into a troubled teenage mind it is an excellent piece of writing, but personally I didn't love it. It didn't really grab me and, though it's only a short book, it took me a while to get through, simply because I couldn't summon up much enthusiasm. I would imagine that it would appeal to men more than women, as they are more likely to identify with Holden, but all that barely suppressed anger and raging hormones was not really my cup of tea. Three stars.