The Catcher in the Rye



One of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

This book is a textbook for adolescence and helps kids really grapple with the anxieties of being a teen. See our "Families Can Talk About" section for some ideas for helping your kids delve more deeply into this classic.

Positive messages

Even though Holden sees the world as a cruel, lonely, and uncaring place, the book offers a way for kids to delve safely into the real issues at the heart of being an adolescent. Some of the best books use anti-heroes to teach their lessons -- this book is exhibit A.

Positive role models

Holden is the real anti-hero of teen literature. Kids learn so much about what kind of people they want to be by living through his actions and dilemmas. They can relate to Holden, who is on the verge of a breakdown and behaves bizarrely at times, including lying quite a bit. He runs away from school and lives on his own in New York City for several days. Although his behavior is often rather extreme, Holden's character lets kids examine their own as well as their insight into the world of adolescence and adulthood.


Teen boys express themselves with violence at times. Holden is punched several times and remembers a boy at his boarding school who committed suicide by jumping out a window.


Teens think about sex. The sex here isn't explicit, but there are sexual references: Holden thinks, worries about, and talks about sex frequently and believes some of his teen friends to have had sex. In one scene, out of loneliness he agrees to have a prostitute visit his hotel room but then only wants to talk to her and ends up humiliated. In another he sees a couple engaged in foreplay and a man dressing up in women's clothes. Compared to today's TV and movie fare, sexual references in this book are tame.


Near constant mild to moderate swearing, with a few instances of "f--k." Holden throws out the word "goddam" when referring to objects and events he feels strongly about. The language makes the book relatable for teens.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

As one would expect from the 1950s setting, nearly everyone in this story drinks mixed drinks and smokes, both to excess. Holden gets quite drunk in one scene. But none of this is gratuitous: A) Some of the smoking relates to the time in which the book was written, and b) getting drunk is a huge rite of passage for kids and thus it's critically important to explore in literature. There is also an instance in which Holden overhears a story about someone attempting to commit suicide by taking aspirin.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book remains one of the best books about adolescence ever written. Any language used -- and it is chock full of mild to moderate swearing, and "f--k" is used several times -- is in the service of being true to the nature of a rebellious teen. There are also lots of sexual references, and everyone smokes and drinks -- including the underage protagonist. Holden refers to homosexuals as "flits." People have used these instances in an effort to have the book banned. But those who would do so miss the point of the book, which is a compassionate tale of a child adrift in the world. It's an American classic that everyone should read.

What's the story?

Holden Caulfield, about to be kicked out of yet another boarding school for flunking most of his courses, decides not to wait until the end of term and takes off for his hometown, Manhattan, a few days early. He figures he'll hole up in a cheap hotel, look up a few friends, then arrive home on time. But Holden is deeply troubled by the death of his beloved younger brother from leukemia, as well as a classmate's suicide. Alone in an uncaring city, his already fragile psyche begins to unravel.

Is it any good?


Holden Caulfield holds a place in the American psyche akin to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer: an exquisitely rendered character with whom nearly anyone can identify. There are three true things that can be said about J.D. Salinger's masterpiece: It is one of the great works of American literature, it is one of the most frequently challenged by would-be book-banners, and, therefore, it is one of the most misunderstood books of the 20th century. It has been challenged and banned for all of the reasons mentioned above in the content advisories. But those who challenge it fail to see the forest for the little swearword trees. They have called Holden a cynical teenager, when in fact he's such a compassionate innocent abroad that he can hardly cope with the cynical world at all: He's so innocent and so alone that he tries to get a prostitute to just chat and keep him company (alas, no heart of gold here). Desperately lonely, adrift in what seems to him an uncaring world, he has been through some terrible experiences, and no one at all seems to have noticed that he's crumbling.

It's true that much of it is somewhat dated now. Yet there's a reason this book has stayed in print, is stocked in nearly every bookstore, and has been assigned in nearly every high school for the past 50-plus years: Its emotional power and poignancy are still as strong as ever, and Holden's inner self is just as recognizable to teens today as it has ever been. This is one of those books that everyone should read as a teen. At a time (1951) when "teen" and "adolescent" were barely concepts in the American mind, Salinger captured the adolescent voice and way of thinking more perfectly -- and more poignantly -- than just about anyone before or since.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the ways in which the content of the book, which is set in New York City in the early 1950s, might be considered dated by today's standards. How are Holden's experiences different from those of a modern teenager? If there are differences, are there also things in Holden's world that have largely stayed the same in terms of teenage life?

  • Do you relate to Holden in any way? Do you admire him, or do you pity him? Or is it a little of both?

  • Why do you think this book is considered so important -- and why do you think it's been one of the most frequently challenged books when it comes to censorship?

Book details

Author:J. D. Salinger
Genre:Literary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:December 31, 1969
Number of pages:214
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

This review of The Catcher in the Rye was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 17 years old Written bykay123 April 25, 2010
Parents i know you think this book isnt good enough for your kids but truthfully this is what they go to school and talk about. This is what they see everyday on t.v and in magazines. They are going to learn it one way or another. Have your kid read the book and talk about it together what your views on it was. The worst thing you can do is try to protect your kid from the big bad world.. because thats going to hurt them in the long run. I think kids should start reading this about 6th or 7th grade.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 17 years old Written byVictor A. May 29, 2011


listen i don't normally give my opinion on anything on the internet. actually not at all. but i feel responsible for having to say something. parents and teens or even kids need to realize something about this book. whether a book is good or bad is of utter opinion. But the importance of it is all to real.My name is Christian A. Guevara and im not your average teen. Im a little smarter than most and almost completely isolated in my way of thinking in the sense that i always think in a more moral philosophical view. It is important for me to tell you who i am for you to truly understand. look the world is what it is. It does not provide cushions for you when you face reality. And each person has their own view on it depending on how they grew up. On this particular book, its from the perspective of a specific teenager. so if you dont understand where he is coming from or have no idea why he feels the way he does except through over opinioted reviews, then please dont jump to say your negative 2 cents about it. of course opinions are to be respected and you have every right to do so but think thourougly before doing so because you might drive others away from what might be a life changing read for the reader. both parents and kids of a certain age need to realize that although people are grey areas, the world is black and white. it is what it is, to put it simply.I connected to this book in the sense that my way of thinking is the same as Holden. Yes, he is selfish and a madman. Is this bad? It is not for us to say. It has been benifitial to me and everyone around me that i love. Holden is a fictional character that represents what many of us have gone through, and is the manifestation of what just a few of us have gone through. Parents, love it or hate it this book depicts the truth going on around our world. You of all people should know that this vulgar language is only as bad as we make it. It is in every day life, and honestly its not that big a deal.Neither is sexuality. Its not so much the age of the kid as much as it is the moral values, intelligence and manor to which the child has been raised. If the child has been raised in a non tolerant household that fluffs up the real world, of course the child is going to be disturbed by this. and kids, teens, whatever, please read this book. hell, you might not make the least bit connection with it but it is a very real statement and your first insight of the truth. All his complaining, which i agree he does frequently is a message. These are very real problems facing the world from ignorant blondes at a bar to the ultimate future and ignorant state of mind that our innocent children are going to grow up to face. I dont recommend you read this book until your 16 though. not because of the language or the sex or the violence or the moral aspect of it. live your life with open eyes and observe silently. if all goes well, when you read this book youll see the very nature of the true geniuses living around you. and youll realize that mostly all the time, the "smart people" arent always the ones getting straight A's.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 16 years old Written bybookwyrm December 29, 2010
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide