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Several of you who studied Catcher in the Rye with me wrote me with thoughts about the death of J.D. Salinger at age 91. Much has been said about Salinger and his work over the past week. The New York Times said Catcher's narrator's unique (at the time) voice, "struck a brash new note in American literature." Holden Caulfield's impact on people of all ages was described in a post for Slate by an editorial assistant tasked with answering his mail, which he refused to read.

If you're a scoffer of Salinger devotees, you could be a victim of overexposure; a Washington Post writer points out that making Catcher required reading has taken its toll on him as a cultural hero. ". . . how can you be subversive when your books are assigned by the sort of educational pooh-bahs whom Holden might have spotted as phonies?"

Like him, love him, hate him, loathe him - J.D. Salinger changed the landscape of literature for Young Adults. Never before and seldom since has anyone so authentically captured the cadences, the humor, the angst, and the insecurities of a high school guy. Whether you write him off as a hopeless hypocrite or revere him as a spokesman for isolated youth everywhere, Holden Caulfield broke ground.

If you're looking for a way to honor the passing of J.D. Salinger, consider reading a YA book in honor of the man who helped invent the genre. I have a few suggestions. (Are you surprised?) A few of my favorites for authenticity of voice:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
King Dork - Frank Portman
Looking for Alaska - John Green
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green - Joshua Braff
Days of Little Texas - R. A. Nelson
What I Saw and How I Lied - Judy Blundell
Story of a Girl - Sara Zarr
My Heartbeat - Garret Freymann-Weyr

What are your thoughts about Salinger's work? And which books would you add to this list?

Posted in February, 2010

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