by Ranelle Irwin
I’d always heard about The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. It’s been on numerous banned book lists and has caused parents to question the moral integrity of high school English programs all over the United States. Naturally, this only heightened my desire to read it over winter break.
Salinger creates an engaging conversational tone by adapting his writing style to follow patterns of speech—from the way we enunciate certain syllables to the way that conversations are often cyclical and repetitive rather than logical and straightforward.
Holden and Mr. Antolini, a former teacher, talk at the end of the book about Holden’s Oral Expressions class. Richard Kinsella, a boy who didn’t always stick to the point, led the schoolboys to shout, “Digression!” every time Richard veered off-topic.
Holden says, “I mean I guess he should’ve picked his uncle as a subject, instead of the farm, if that interested him most. But what I mean is, lots of the time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most . . . What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something.”
In some ways, the book models this idea—it doesn’t always stay on topic and it brings up old topics, copying them almost verbatim. Some readers may find this off-putting since it deviates from the storytelling techniques in a typical novel, but in a sense, it heightens the realism in the story. Real life is not always straightforward, and Salinger captures this brilliantly.
Some readers will find some of the references and topics dated—and at times, laughable. For instance, Holden is criticized by his younger sister or other people he knows because of his foul language characterized by God’s name in vain. (For contrast, one of the books read at my high school used the f-word copiously. The fact that people still call out this book for its explicit language makes me chuckle.) Cigarettes are smoked by everyone and their mother, and the word “necking” is used to refer to making out and to insinuate sexual desire. If these things don’t offend you, you probably won’t object to the “immoral” content of the book.
Where the book particularly shines is when it leaves you questioning. Was Holden sexually abused? Is he mentally ill? Why is he obsessed with “phonies”? Why is he focused on the ducks? Holden is also a compulsive liar, which leads the reader to wonder whether or not he’s even telling us the truth.
Some may find Holden unlikable and see the story as a tale of him whining about the world. Upon reflection and research, the book takes a different shape—one of adolescent struggles, feelings of loneliness, and a semblance of immaturity that colors all of our pasts in some way. He’s not a lovable character, but he’s painfully relatable.
If you read this when you were younger, I encourage you to read it again in a few years. You may be able to see Holden—and yourself—in a different light.
by Haylie Book
The young adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas written by John Boyne takes place in Germany during the second World War. The narrator is a young boy named Bruno. Bruno is a naive narrator, as he is too young to fully realize the extent of his situation. Bruno’s family moves to a new home, although he does not find out until later that they moved out of Germany and into Poland. Bruno gradually gathers information as the story goes on, wistfully pulling at the audience’s heart strings. Bruno discovers a wire fence at the new house that keeps him from exploring the entire property and can see people dressed in striped pajamas and caps across the fence. Bruno’s grandma told his father how disappointed and ashamed she was in him for the work he was doing. Bruno realizes that the people on the other side of the fence are treated much differently than himself and his family. All of these realizations begin to build up as the audience makes connections to the reality of Bruno’s situation.
What makes this story work is the innocence of Bruno. Nearly right off the bat, the audience recognizes what is happening: Bruno’s father runs a concentration camp filled with Jewish people. This makes it painful to continue to read through Bruno and his purity. Bruno tries to make friends with people on the other side of the fence by giving them food or playing games with them. In his mind, he sees no difference between himself and them. However, he begins to realize that his father and his father’s workers treat them much differently. They do not give them as much food. They only get the striped pajamas to wear. They must work all day every day. Bruno’s young mind does not understand why this happens. He is inquisitive of the situation, but he never considers himself to be superior to them.
The length of this story is perfect. There is just enough information and detail to make the audience connect with Bruno in a way that makes the rest of the story incredibly tragic. The story does not drag on to a point that makes it repetitive or boring. Every scene is intended to make the audience realize the chilling nature of the situation or bring you closer to Bruno as a character. By doing this, the audience is able to fully grasp the family dynamic, as well as dig into Bruno’s young mind.
The ending of this story is what makes it so impactful. It takes something as serious as World War Two and makes us think about it in an even deeper and frightening manner. The ending is like a punch to the gut. It does not glorify any aspect of the war; instead, it makes concentration camps seem like the horrendous camps that they were. Without giving away the ending and spoiling it for anybody who has not read it, I would encourage anybody who is interested in World War Two, or even just in a well-rounded, heartbreaking story, to read this book. It is a quick read, but you may have to occasionally set the book down and take a breather, so as to keep your emotions from going overboard. It takes a lovable, innocent narrator and tells a poignant and moving story that takes you on an emotional rollercoaster the entire way through.
This book can be found in nearly any store where books are sold. I’d recommend getting your hands on a copy and hopping into the story with a few tissues in hand.