Recently on Weekend Edition, Scott Simon interviewed a professor from Oberlin, Anne Trubek, about an article she’d written for Good magazine. She believes The Catcher in the Rye should be retired as part of the English/Language Arts curriculum in high schools. Today’s students no longer identify with Holden Caulfield, a white, upper class, prep school student, she contends. Simon pushed her pretty hard, saying, “But it’s a CLASSIC!” Trubek reminded him that TCITR was itself an “instant classic,” deemed so just a few years after its publication.
We all remember having various “classics” shoved down our throats in high school, when we were too immature and inexperienced to appreciate them. A friend still hates The Good Earth because she had to read it in 10th grade. I’m reading it right now for my book club, and I can understand why a 15-year-old wouldn’t connect with it. My sister’s son was required to read Pride and Prejudice his senior year, and of course he hated it. Really, expecting a teenage boy to find anything to relate to in Jane Austen is a stretch, even for me, an Austen fanatic.
Prof. Trubek suggests several books which may resonate more with teens than some of the old stand-bys. Contemporary YA novels get my vote–I never have understood why they’re not used in the schools. A few from recent years that would inspire great discussions: Luna, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, The Book Thief, Elsewhere, Life As We Knew It, Slam, Samurai Shortstop, and there are plenty of crossovers, too, such as The Kite Runner.