Young adult fiction shouldn’t be bad adult fiction. And, yes, Catcher in the Rye is bad. It appears to be the portrayal of an immature character, but really is the work of an immature person.
When grown adults write books that arrested adolescents relate to, they should probably be ashamed. Think of the musical parallel: How many 14-year-olds have sung along empathically to the pathetic-in-the-extreme lyrics of Pink Floyd’s The Wall? Please, go read the lyrics, and think about the fact that Roger Waters was in his mid/late 30s when he wrote them. Egads.
But we’re talking about Catcher in the Rye, and I invite you to give it another look too, not simply to trust your high school experience as still being what you’d conclude today. You’ve grown up, even if Salinger never did. Upon re-inspection, you’ll find Holden morally repugnant, sexist, and egoistic and the writing as a whole slapdash. You will not be impressed.
And now we’re concerned about an unauthorized sequel? Please. Scholars haven’t even concluded that the Odyssey wasn’t an unauthorized sequel to the Iliad. Who cares?
Instead we should be concerned 1) that the choice of books is so bad in high school English classes that Catcher in the Rye seems excellent by comparison, and 2) that books teens really should be reading, like the list in the sidebar of this article, don’t always get the attention they deserve in classes as “serious” books.
To me, serious is as serious registers. I’d love kids to be able to see the humor, humanity, and wisdom in Great Expectations, but instead most high school students just find it boring and conclude that Dickens stinks. What a tragedy.
So, yes, I think we should give kids what they’ll like — what they’ll actually comprehend and get something out of — but it should be better than Catcher in the Rye. If that’s your kid’s favorite book, buy him or her some David Sedaris, some Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the novellas or short stories), or even, damn me for saying it, Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist (which they’ll hopefully grow out of as well).
And instead of making a hubbub about whether a sequel is authorized, let’s raise arms about whether syllabi are authorized. Unless we reform how books are taught in schools, reading is going to go the way of the VCR.