I remember spending a cozy December day curled up on a couch in the library reading The Catcher in the Rye in one sitting. Despite being published in 1951, it is the epitome of the angsty teenage novel. It’s a book that sums up how it feels to be lost and out of control of your own life. A lot of Holden’s decisions make you cringe, but that’s what makes it so enduring. After all, haven’t we all made bad decisions when we’re feeling low? The following books like The Catcher in the Rye pull from both the emotions and settings of the classic book to give you new reading suggestions that will satisfy your inner angsty, yet luxurious teen.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fifteen-year old Kambili lives a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. She has a caring family, a beautiful home, and attends an exclusive missionary school. But despite all of this, Kambili feels suffocated at home with her fanatically religious and tyrannical father. When a military coup starts to take over the country, Kambili and her brother are sent to their aunt’s house outside the city. There, they discover a life away from their father’s authority. When they return home, tensions within the family rise, and it’s up to Kambili to keep everyone together while navigating the rollercoaster of adolescence.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
James Sveck is eighteen-years old and living in Manhattan. He is sophisticated and sensitive, and unsure of how to navigate his world. He is also cynical and rejects all norms that govern the adult world, including the expectation that he will attend college. He envisions a different life for himself. This book is an insightful look into a young man who questions his time, his world, and himself.
The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Thirteen-year old Stagerlee has always been different. She was born ‘Evangeline’, but wanted something fiercer—something that defined her better. She’s always felt set apart from others, from her grandparents’ death in an anti-civil rights bombing, to her parents interracial marriage. This summer makes her feel more different than usual as she’s confused by a new longing for her friend Hazel. When Stagerlee’s cousin comes to stay, she shows her the world of possibilities that exist beyond childhood.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This critically acclaimed novel follows Charlie as he navigates the strange time in between adolescence and adulthood. An observant “wallflower”, Charlie experiences first dates, family drama, new friendships, sex, drugs, loss, and love. This heartbreaking yet hysterical story examines the rollercoaster that is growing up in high school.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor lives in the quietest village in Worcestershire as the Cold War rages. But the thirteen chapters in this novel each tell a short story that creates a vivid and bright world, far different than the one Jason perceives. Exploring a range of emotions and situations, this novel sits on the cusp of boyhood and adulthood.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottesa Moshfegh
A novel about another New Yorker making disastrous decisions, the unnamed narrator of Moshfegh’s novel decides to sleep as much as possible for a year. Prescribed bizarre medications by a dodgy psychiatrist, this Upper East Side orphan combats her own depression through slumber. Her world is full of crude details: Thai leftovers, Whoopi Goldberg VHS tapes and cups of coffee from the bodega. The narrator deals with disastrous relationships, stemming from her cruel Wall Street boyfriend and her very 2000’s best friend. If you enjoyed watching Holden make mistakes in The Catcher in the Rye, you’ll read this book with the same morbid fascination.
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
Adam, from The Topeka School, embodies Holden Caulfield’s white male monologuing voice for a new generation. This novel engages both the current political situation and the culture of toxic masculinity, despite being set in the late ’90s. It welcomes a deeper discussion on the literary history of white male protagonists and questions the power that comes with their voices.
Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales
Adolescence is hard and Sales sums it up perfectly as she tells the story of Violet, a junior at a prestigious prep school. Violet deals with PSAT scores, crushes and changing friendships. The book tackles the ambition and competitive intelligence that comes with prep school education. Perhaps a bit more realistic to situations today’s teens encounter than Salinger, Sales’s novel hits a lot of similar emotions that arise in the process of growing up and becoming your own person.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
If you loved the pretentiousness of The Catcher in the Rye, but you prefer it with a dose of magic, this is the novel for you! It’s the story of Quentin Coldwater, a depressed high school senior, who gets accepted at a dark, magical university in upstate New York. It’s full of gritty issues like sex, drug use and booze, and characters who rival Holden Caulfield in the recklessness of their decision making. With notes of The Secret History and Harry Potter, this novel will sate your Catcher cravings.
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
Likewise, if you wish that A Catcher in the Rye was more of a thriller, Social Creature might be an ideal next novel for you. Set in the opulent world of contemporary New York City, the novel takes on a The Talented Mr. Ripley plotline for the digital age. It will keep you intrigued and on the edge of your seat as you read about Louise’s exploits and murder in upper-class intellectual society. It’s a dark book but is also filled with glittering details of glasses of Moët, secret bookshops and sex parties. If you loved the glimpses of luxury in Catcher, you’ll be drawn in by the bizarre and elegant world Louise and Lavinia inhabit.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
Set in rural Montana and written in a dreamy style, this novel has a prickly and defiant narrator who will eventually grow on you. A book about a teenager on a journey of self-discovery, this is a tale of Cameron who is grappling with the death of her parents and understanding her own identity. Between her crush on a girl named Coley and a stint in a Christian gay conversion camp, Cameron must discover the courage to become her true self.
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
This is a quirky, coming-of-age novel about a boarding school in Ireland. It begins with the death of a 14-year-old boy named Skippy before going back to recount the events and friendships in his life leading up to the tragic event. Somehow both heartwarming and gritty, this Man Booker Prize longlisted book will make you both laugh and cry.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Sittenfeld’s novel Prep has become a contemporary classic. It’s the story of Lee, a Midwest girl who is a student at a snobby East Coast boarding school. She navigates the balance between outsider and participant in the traditions that come with her school. With both condemnation of the “phonies” around her, but intrigue for their world, Lee recounts her unique high school experience.
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Another darker approach to this genre, Rio’s novel turns Shakespeare into a murder mystery. Set at an exclusive conservatory for Shakespearean actors, Oliver’s senior year is full of twists and turns when a fellow actor is murdered after a performance of Macbeth. With characters who intertwine Shakespeare quotes into their ordinary vocabulary and a decadent setting at an elusive school, this novel will appeal to lovers of the aesthetic of Catcher who also are drawn in by Shakespeare.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
If you loved reading about destructive decisions being made by a young New Yorker, but you wished there were alien robots, behold your next read. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing features realistic, but slightly unlikable, narrator April May who happens upon an alien robot named Carl. She must navigate the fame that comes with her discovery, as well as the gray area the comes with representing something that she isn’t entirely sure is good or bad.
Bunny by Mona Awad
For the lovers of the truly bizarre, Mona Awad’s novel set at a highly selective MFA program in New England will be very appealing. Samantha gets pulled in by the world of “unbearably twee rich girls” who refer to each other as bunny. Fused with horror and highly imaginative, this novel has a gem of something that will appeal to The Catcher in the Rye lovers, who also are longing for something completely different and new.
Winger by Andrew Smith
Winger by Andrew Smith tells the story of a 14-year-old at a boarding school who deals with all the ups and downs of high school. A bit of an outsider, but with good friends, Ryan Dean is a much less destructive protagonist than Holden Caulfield. He does learn some really hard lessons when a devastating event happens that changes everything in his world.
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