The summer before I was assigned to read Catcher in the Rye, I spent the entire summer reading books about angry grieving boys, and when I got to Catcher in the Rye, I was like “this book is unoriginal!” Because I had read all these other books that Catcher in the Rye is the blueprint for.
Holden Caulfield is exactly the kind of confusing and angry boy that I thought I was in love with as a high schooler, learning to express his feelings and not having good role models about it, so he does a wild array of different and somewhat inappropriate things instead. (Inappropriate in that they are not particularly good ways to express his feelings, not that teenagers having sex or having sexual feelings is wrong). It’s similar to Seventeenth Summer in that there is a fair bit of emphasis on dating, but Holden gets into more interesting scrapes and notably is allowed and kind of encouraged to go a lot more places alone, whereas Angie mostly goes places with her family or with boys. Holden resents everything (misguided anger, but at what originally?), cries a lot (a great release of emotion!), and is haunted by the death of his brother and the suicide of a schoolmate. (Every haunting is just a manifestation of grief; of love.) He obsesses over maybe being homosexual and is weird about touch (suggesting OCD to me, although focusing more on the obsessive thoughts side without necessarily the compulsive disorder — yet). He refuses to engage with other people as complex humans; rather dismisses them as “phonies”, but at the crux of it, he does admit that maybe people are people (see: Mr. Anatoli). Themes include: coming of age, grief, being an adolescent, figuring yourself out, maybe having a Time about it.