Want personalized picks that fit your family?

Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.

Get age-based picks

The Catcher in the Rye

Book review by
Liz Perle, Common Sense Media
The Catcher in the Rye Book Poster Image
One of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 29 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 100 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.

Violence

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.

Sex

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.

Language

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.

Consumerism
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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGracesbigsis July 14, 2010

The worst book I've ever read

I will never understand how this book got published to begin with. There is nothing enjoyable about it. There is no set plotline. It is the ramblings of a selfi... Continue reading
Adult Written byixca July 31, 2015

I think it might be too intellectually challenging for some parents

I loved this book when I first read it at age 14 and continue to admire Salinger's writing to this day. It's fun to read the text again almost 30 yea... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byVictor A. May 29, 2011

Judgement.

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 t... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bybookwyrm December 29, 2010

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 60-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.

Talk to your kids 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

For kids who love literature and challenged books

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

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

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate