The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 to popular acclaim. It follows protagonist Holden Caulfield for two days following his expulsion from prep school. This semi-autobiographical novel’s themes include brooding adolescence and loss of innocence as Holden encounters friends and strangers in the days following his expulsion.
J.D. Salinger became rather reclusive following the publication of his only novel but followed his famous work with novellas and short stories. He died in 2010 at age 91.
Here’s a list of 20 other young adult novels that are worth a read if you enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye.
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s popular classic The Great Gatsby was published in 1925. Narrator Nick Carraway, a neighbor of Jay Gatsby, tells the story of what happened during the summer of 1922 among the young and wealthy on Long Island, New York: the boredom, the romances, the extravagant parties and the tragic ending.
The Kite Runner
Afghan American author Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel The Kite Runner gained critical acclaim when it was published in 2003. The story follows Amir, who lives in Kabul, Afghanistan, from childhood into adulthood as he grapples with his actions toward his childhood friend Hassan as well as his relationship with his father.
A tragedy has ended the friendship between the two boys, and years go by before Amir can attempt to redeem himself. He succeeds, but not in the way you might think.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time classic that has been read by millions of high school students and book fans alike. Set in the South during the Great Depression, it focuses on a prominent widowed lawyer and his two children. The height of the plot is Atticus Finch’s defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman. During the course of the trial, Finch’s daughter, Jean Louise “Scout,” learns about the cruelties of racism and prejudice in America.
Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies by Nobel-Prize-winning author Henry Golding was published in 1954 and imagines a group of British boys stranded on an island. They are survivors of a wartime plane crash. What happens on that island is Golding’s take on how children might behave if left to their own devices. Things deteriorate as the boys break off into tribes and vie for superiority. The overarching themes are flawed human nature, the existence of evil, and the tensions between group and individual mindsets.
We the Animals
Centering on three boys growing up in upstate New York, We the Animals by Justin Torres is a gritty portrayal of family dysfunction. It is narrated by the youngest boy, who is unnamed, and we learn about their abusive father and depressed mother. The youngest boy is different from his brothers, though, quieter and more studious. But as his sexual awakening happens, he is no match for his family.
S.E. Hinton’s first novel, The Outsiders, takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the 1960s. The narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, details the rivalry between the greasers and the “socs” (pronounced “soch-es”) and the events that lead to him and Johnny running away and hiding out for several days. Romance, murder, and tragedy result in Ponyboy writing about his experiences that year when he was 14.
Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher’s debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, visits the excruciating topic of teen suicide, which all-too-frequently leaves families and communities reeling. Liberty High School sophomore Hannah Baker commits suicide, but before doing so, she records two cassette tapes listing 13 reasons why she decided to end her life.
The story is told from the perspectives of Hannah and classmate Jay Hensen, and the tapes are meant to be passed on to specific people so that they can understand their role in her tragic death. The book was made into a Netflix series, which was also popular.
A Separate Peace
Published in 1959, A Separate Peace by John Knowles is a traumatic coming-of-age story at a New England boarding school. The narrator, Gene Forrester, returns to the school 15 years later, still processing the events that happened there.
Gene and Phineas “Finny” were friends and competitors until an impulsive act forever changed their relationship. Set during World War II, the book also explores how war compromises those not even old enough for the draft.
A National Book Award finalist, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson chronicles the rape of a 13-year-old girl and its aftermath. Melinda, attending her first year of high school, was raped at a summer party. She called the police but left before they arrived, and has since not told anyone about the rape.
It eats away at her during her freshman year as she makes friends and develops an interest in art. It is not until later in the year that she begins to speak out, thus starting the healing process and helping others avoid her fate.
The back of the book includes resources for survivors of sexual assault, and the author still receives letters of appreciation for her work.
The New York Times appropriately called Holes “a smart jigsaw puzzle of a novel.” This young adult classic by Louis Sachar tells the story of a boy, Stanley Yelnats, whose family has been under a curse. Stanley is sent to a boys’ detention center, where the inmates are forced to dig five-foot holes every day.
The ensuing saga takes readers back generations to Stanley’s ancestors to solve the mystery of what the warden might be looking for with the digging. An unfulfilled promise leads to a curse, and a lipstick tube is a clue to the mystery of those holes.
Holes won the 1998 National Book Award and the 1999 Newbery Medal.
In Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, Santiago is a young, adventurous shepherd from Andalusia, Spain, whose recurring dream sends him on an odyssey through northern Africa and into Egypt. Along the way he is robbed, falls in love, and meets an alchemist (a transformer of metals into gold), who shares his wisdom about the “Soul of the World” with the boy.
Upon returning to Spain, Santiago realizes what he was looking for was right there all along.
The Topeka School
Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School was published in 2019 to critical acclaim, becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The story focuses on teenager Adam and his parents and is a commentary of sorts on modern-day themes of privilege, toxic masculinity, and bullying.
Adam’s parents are psychologists. His mother’s successful book leads to her dealing with trauma from sexual abuse, while her jealous husband becomes unfaithful. Meanwhile Adam, a popular student, befriends Darren – leading to a traumatic event.
Longlisted for the Booker Prize, Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies delves into some heavy topics: drug use, pedophilia, and bullying all come to light after Skippy, a 14-year-old boy at a boarding school in Dublin, Ireland, unexpectedly collapses and dies. The story goes back in time to chronicle the events leading up to Skippy’s death.
Described as “tragicomic,” the novel is at once heartbreaking and humorous, and the characters are entirely relatable.
Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937, tells the tragic story of two Depression-era ranch workers, George and Lennie, who is mentally challenged. They are forced to leave one ranch due to allegations of rape against Lennie.
Their daily lives soon become entwined with other workers at a new ranch, but Lennie, who has a soft spot for animals, finds himself unable to live successfully in the harsh and cruel world of humans. George soon learns that his and Lennie’s dream of having a farm of their own just isn’t meant to be.
The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan is the first of five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians fantasy series. Published in 2005, the book drew several accolades including School Library Journal’s Best Book of 2005.
Heavily based in Greek mythology, the novel’s protagonist is Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old boy who is the son of the sea god Poseidon. After Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt, he must catch the real thief before war breaks out on Mount Olympus. He and his friends begin a fantastical adventure across the United States battling monsters and gods.
Steve Harmon is a Black teenage boy from Harlem who can’t believe what is happening to him – so much so that he feels like a character in a movie. In the novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers, Steve and his co-defendants, on trial for robbery and murder, are called “monsters” by prosecutors.
To deal with the trauma of his imprisonment and trial, Steve decides to write a screenplay for a movie and call it Monster, because that is what he has been made to feel like, alienated and removed from society.
The bestselling novel deals with themes of race and racism, isolation, and violence as Steve navigates his days in a juvenile detention center.
I’ll Give You the Sun
Twins Noah and Jude are the protagonists in Jandy Nelson’s novel I’ll Give You the Sun. How can this brother and sister go from being as close as twins can be to barely speaking to one another?
Each twin tells half of the story, which includes the traumatic accidental death of their mother. Jude’s jealousy of Noah, and Noah’s guilt over their mother’s death and his secret romance with Brian are revealed. While Jude gets accepted to college, Noah, a talented artist, begins dangerous cliff-diving.
Nelson won the 2015 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature for her novel.
We Are the Ants
A Time Best YA Book of All Time, We Are the Ants puts a science-fiction twist on the misery and heartbreak that teenagers sometimes face.
Reeling from his boyfriend’s death, Henry – who has been repeatedly abducted by aliens for much of his young life – must decide whether life should go on, not only for himself but the entire world. The aliens give him an ultimatum – save humanity, which is soon about to be destroyed, or not.
Henry begins to weigh the pros and cons of his life, describing family tensions and bullying at school. Will he decide the world should be saved, or has his nihilism taken over?
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include this book by J.K. Rowling – the first of the immensely popular series – in a list of YA classics. Debuting in 1998, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone captured the hearts and imaginations of an entire generation of readers (and their parents), who stood in line for hours eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
We probably don’t need to tell you that Harry Potter is a wizard. In this first endearing story, the reader finds the 11-year-old protagonist living with his aunt and uncle. He is soon shipped off to wizarding school, where he begins a magical and dangerous journey that will continue throughout his childhood. This first book introduces readers to Harry’s world and J.K. Rowling’s fantastical imagination.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A semi-autobiographical novel by American author Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn captures the essence of growing up amid poverty and family dysfunction.
Francie lives with her family in Brooklyn during the early 20th century. She has an alcoholic father and an overworked mother, but like all teenagers, she dreams of better things for herself: she likes school and knows that hard work and an education will help her rise above her current circumstances.
The novel, published in 1943, is considered an American classic and is a PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick.
Frequently Asked Questions
What writing style does J.D. Salinger use in The Catcher in the Rye?
Salinger’s style is described as “stream of consciousness” or “colloquial and slangy,” presenting the feeling of listening to a teenager speak as opposed to an adult.
Why has The Catcher in the Rye been banned by some schools?
The book has been banned for excessive vulgar language and sexual scenes, among other things.
What is the metaphor in The Catcher in the Rye?
The book’s theme is lost innocence, and Holden wants to be “the catcher in the rye,” which refers to saving children from falling off a cliff, which can be a metaphor for entering adulthood.
Who were J.D. Salinger’s contemporaries?
Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald come from the same era.
What is Salinger’s best short story?
One of his best is considered “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which can be found here.
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