After looking at the list of novels that the participants created, we compiled our own list of YA novels that contained characters that reminded us of Holden in one way or another. We read and read and finally landed on some key novels that are worthy of greater attention by readers and scholars of YA literature. We formulated a thesis and developed a discussion about these novels that a language arts journals in the UK, English in Education reviewed and, just this month, published. The journal is a bit hard to access in the states unless your university subscribes, but it is currently on open access and here is the link. In addition, we can share the pdf of the article with interested parties. In other words, ask us about the article; we would love to share it. Below, I briefly describe the thesis of the paper and the novels and novelist we highlight.
The title of the article captures the thesis of the paper; It’s The Catcher in the Rye. . . He said it was the kind of book you made your own: Finding Holden in Contemporary YA Literature[i] . The influence of Salinger’s novel endures and since its publication many critics have wondered about novels that might have similar impact. Our focus is on five novels (see the next paragraph) that present characters that exist somewhere on a sliding continuum of adolescences, that moving target of existence that teenagers inhabit between childhood and adulthood. We define this liminal space as a period of time that teens navigate as they explore what it means to leave the innocence of childhood and move toward the inherent responsibilities and obligations of adulthood. The characters in this space are not innocent; furthermore, they are often more responsible than the “phony” adults that try to control them, influence them, abuse them, or just let them down.
Kate and I found that we loved these books. In publication order they are: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Chbosky 1999), You Don’t Know Me (Klass 2002), Looking for Alaska (Green 2005), King Dork (Portman 2006), and Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 (Barnes 2009). Two of the novels are quite popular and frequently included in YA literature course. The others are equally as fascinating; but they remain underrated, under read, and underappreciated.
John Green’s novel, Looking for Alaska, is nearing its tenth anniversary. If you follow him on Facebook, you can see that he has already promoted the new cover. (Of course, we discuss both in the paper. Did I mention that we would love to share it?)
Perhaps the most difficult book to read is David Klass’s terrific novel, You Don’t Know Me. By using the word difficult, I don’t mean that the vocabulary is too hard. It is difficult because of the physical and emotional abuse that the novel’s narrator, John is enduring. Stylistically it requires readers to pay attention as the narrator, John, constantly addresses an undefined “you” throughout the narration. After several readings, John’s character has become, for me at least, a strong voice for adolescents who endure any abuse at the hands of adults. This is a powerful reminder of one of the devastating ways that adults—who should be the protectors of adolescents—are often phonies in the eyes of children and adolescents. (Our paper explores John’s liminal existence in adolescence. I would be happy to share it with you if like.)
The final novel in the group is Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by an established science fiction writer, John Barnes. I gravitated to this novel because of the date, 1973, in the title. Once again, I age myself; but I graduated from high school in 1973 and I wanted to see if he got the setting right. From the beginning, I knew exactly why this novel was a Printz Award Honor Book. Karl, the novel’s main character certainly has his own issues and challenges, but he seems to be navigating adolescence more successfully than the other characters we discuss.
All of these characters demonstrate that the influence of The Catcher in the Rye is alive and well in YA literature. We didn’t mention every possible novel [Many others deserve attention and we deliberately saved those with a female protagonist--Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, and the newest offering from Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory--for another paper], but these five novels have definite literary quality and will stand the test of time. Unfortunately, some of these novels need more readers (We hope our paper helps. Oh, and by the way, we are happy to share). Equally as important, we hope they stay on library shelves. Just as The Catcher in the Rye has had a difficult time finding a place in the classroom so will these novels. Some have already been pulled from classrooms and placed on banned book lists. Maybe establishing them in the classroom is not as important as establishing them in minds of readers. As scholars, librarians, teachers, and just plain readers of great books, we can help promote them. Teach one of the books in your next YA literature course. Establish a “books like The Catcher in the Rye” reading group. Just keep reading and tell your friends about the books you like. Furthermore, send us your suggestions. Remember, to paraphrase Tyler in David Levithan’s The Realms of Possibility, “We are all catchers, and it’s sad that we don’t see it” (p. 61). Well, maybe we do from time to time; nevertheless, we would love to add to our list of terrific realistic Holdenesque fiction.
Until next week,
Steven T. Bickmore
[i] Bickmore, S. T. & Youngblood, K. E. (2014) “It’s The Catcher in the Rye… He said it was the kind of book you made your own” Finding Holden in Contemporary YA literature. English in Education. 48(3), 250-263