I know, I know, bad timing, with Salinger dying and all, but stick with me. I think I’ve got something here.
Catcher in the Rye has affected individuals’ lives in a big way. Not new news. But here is a little story for you. Personally, I picked it up in my sophomore year of high school and put it right back down, despite my desperate desire to look more brilliant carrying it down the hallway. Are you following this? My distressed, angst ridden, please-love-me-world-please self who devotedly wallowed in my nerdiness placed that book on the shelf. I couldn’t’ do it. While I can easily sit here at my ripe age of 25 and say that Catcher is…well…some of the things everyone says it is…the 15 year old me was rather blasé about it all. A book that did affect me in the profound way that I expected Catcher to bestow was Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was edgy, straight-forward, and deeply poetic . What I didn’t notice was the similarities between Perks and Catcher.
Lets go from the outside-in, shall we?
Cather’s original 1951 cover art looked like this:
And then some smartie thought, hey, simplicity is IN!:
And some other smartie at MTV thought the same thing but added a POP of color:
Look at all of that attractive, hip minimalism!
Once you open the books, you get this:
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
Perks takes on that ____ and____and____ flow of consciousness where the narrator is confidently addressing the audience:
“I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at the party even though you could have.”
Come one. Admit it. That’s kinda sexy. In the least, it is more provocative than the world ‘crap,’ and being provocative can sell the ‘crap’ out of some YA books. While Holden’s voice has resonance, it is difficult to compete with the ease with which one can access Charlie’s simpler voice, particularly for the contemporary young reader.
Both books take on first time experiences in a raw and poignant manner. Yet, Perks’ straight-forward narration mimics an intimate relationship between the reader and Charlie, easily allowing connections to be made. As a result, Charlie’s trials pack a punch. An added bonus is that the book’s conclusion bring’s Charlie’s narration into question..a rather brilliant realization for any 15 year old, who, if they are anything like I was, typically takes narration as absolute truth.
Now, Perks has been out since 1999, but it is still a book that is passed around from backpack to backpack (and by the way my 16 year old little sister explains it…only the cool-smart kids like her have read it). I have found record that it has been placed on some school summer reading lists geared towards reluctant readers (where it has faced some Catcher-like controversy). But, then, why just reluctant readers? If Perks is capable of impacting someone in the same way that Catcher impacted older generations, why not disperse and support it more publicly?