The ultimate teenage angst novel, studied by millions of teenagers in school because, for so many of them, it is still relevant. The protagonist is a teenager called Holden Caulfield who is afraid to grow up. A gritty Peter Pan.
Set in post-war New York the adult world is a scary place, with smoking, drinking and sex never far from his thoughts as he tries to navigate these grown-up activities. He craves the honesty and innocence of children, how everything is clear for them and very uncomplicated. What he hates about adulthood is 'phoniness' and that is how he describes the behaviour of conformity. The irony is that he is phony, fake in the amount of lies he tells everyone all the time, such as the woman he meets on a train where he lies about his name, age and where he is going.
The person he lies to the most is himself. Written in the first person in the voice of a New York teenager in the 50s, this is a very authentic book. A young man having to face adulthood and all that brings, including to prospect of war and death, is a depressing concept. The answer, of course, is not to grow up at all.
The tragedy of this novel is that we can see through him from the start: a disengaged and frightened boy trying to act like the apathetic individual he thinks he is. I certainly identify with his mindset even though I am not, and never have been, an American teenage boy. Just someone who had to find their place in the scary adult world. A deserved classic we should all read.
This edition published by Penguin on 13 August 2019. Originally published by Little, Brown and Company on 16 July 1951.
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