Like the majority of Americans born in the last half-century, I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school—part of the summer reading program before my sophomore year to be exact, when I was 15. Fifteen—as I believe Taylor Swift reminds us—is a strange time when it comes to reading: You’re stuck between more juvenile fiction and legitimate literature, with nothing specifically geared to you, especially if you’re male.
The Catcher in the Rye is pretty much the book* that bridges that gap between the short stories and novellas I had to read for middle school and the novels required for high school.** Salinger’s 1951 novel is that eminently accessible canonical work, and reading it is an eye-opening experience for so many teenagers because the novel is written on their terms. The Catcher in the Rye is like that teacher you have in high school who doesn’t talk down to you, who doesn’t follow regular lesson plans, and who makes you feel like he really cares. It’s the literary equivalent of Boy Meets World’s Mr. Turner. From its opening lines, Salinger’s novel acknowledges and celebrates the teenage mindset: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
*I mean the article literally; I cannot think of another book that should be read at the age of 15.
**I don’t know if my experience was unique, but in middle school, we had these big textbooks with “LITERATURE” on the front full of terrible excerpts from novels and terrible short stories and terrible novellas like John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. With these things in circulation, it’s a wonder anybody from my generation reads at all.