The late J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye, while easily one of the most banned books in the history of American literature, has also, at the same time, found its way onto many high schools' suggested or required reading lists. The book, based on characters and plot points which had appeared in previous Salinger short stories, describes the emotional unwinding of a sixteen-year-old boy, Holden Caulflield, as he leaves his boarding school (from which he is being expelled due to poor grades and lack of interest) and travels home to New York City.
Holden spends a couple of days kicking about New York as he puts off returning to his family who live in an apartment in the city, all the while offering up a personal, and highly cynical narration on life. He stays in an inexpensive hotel that offers a view of "perverts" on the street below, travels the city streets in cabs or on foot, tries to impress a couple of nuns, takes an old girlfriend to a play, has a close encounter with a prostitute and her aggressive pimp, smokes too much, drinks at every opportunity, and spews a constant criticism of life and all its trappings.
Holden Caulfield struggles to understand life as he slowly and painfully matures. He has flunked out of several private schools, witnessed death up close, and almost experienced sex. Somewhere in that struggle he has started to unwind, or, as he puts it, to "disappear." As he walks across the busy streets of New York, Caulfield feels himself being pulled down into the pavement and pleads with his dead brother to help keep him from disappearing before he can make it across the street and onto the safety of the next curb.
As the story concludes, the narrator, young Mr. Caulfield, reveals that he has disappeared into the safety of an institution.
The Catcher in the Rye is the granddaddy of teen-angst novels, one that is often referenced in more modern works for teenagers. It is a novel that Charlie reads for his own edification in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and in Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the central character, Arnold Spirit, Jr., places The Catcher in the Rye, second on his list of all-time favorite books - right behind The Grapes of Wrath.
Small minds have pulled The Catcher in the Rye from bookshelves for years due to offensive language and its heady spirit of teen rebellion, but the book has proven to truly be "timeless" in its ability to capture the interest and imagination of succeeding generations. One suspects that it will be read and discussed by many generations yet to come.