The Catcher In The Rye – JD Salinger

The Catcher In The Rye - "The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

The Catcher In The Rye – “The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

Perhaps due to boring literature lessons in school, as a teenager I sort of fell a bit out of love with reading.  The Catcher in the Rye helped reel me back in.  Although it was initially written for adults, it’s characters, theme and style have appealed to teenagers ever since.  The narrator is Holden Caulfield and we as readers see the world through his eyes and in his words.  The novel has come under some criticism for its frequent swearing, but to my mind, it adds authenticity to the story.

The story begins as Holden is facing expulsion from his exclusive school.  After arguing with his dorm-mate, Holden decides not to stay for the last few days of term and instead catches a train to New York City and checks into a hotel until he is due to return home.  Here he contemplates his sexuality, as he labels other residents ‘perverts’.  He goes out dancing and agrees to take a prostitute home, but feels sorry for her and subsequently decides all he wants to do with her is talk. FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS SENSITIVE CHAP


Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life In Wartime Sarajevo – Zlata Filipović

Zlata's Diary - a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Zlata’s Diary – a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Yet again, I must confess to buying this book for purely shallow reasons.  I used to work in a charity shop and this book sat on the shelf for so long that I began to feel sorry for it and so bought it myself.  This isn’t a novel, but a diary kept between 1991 and 1993 by Zlata Filipović, an 11 year old girl (born in 1980) living in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. EEK, SOUNDS A BIT LIKE ANNE FRANK! BUT DOES SHE SURVIVE

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - appeals to adults as well as teens

The Hunger Games – appeals to adults as well as teens

Told in a dystopian future in which the USA has been replaced with Panem, the Hunger Games is the story of a particularly nasty form of entertainment.  The 12 districts of Panem are ruled by the Capital, who have decided that in order to keep their subjects on their toes, each year one male and one female teen from each district must fight it out to the death in the Hunger Games – televised across the land for everyone’s entertainment.  This is very much Battle Royale territory, kill or be killed, with the eventual winner being hailed a hero and winning enough food for them and their family for life.

Katniss Everdeen is the girl from District 12. We follow her from the initial reaping (the selection process) through her pre-Games interview, publicity campaign and eventual entry into the arena.  Whilst in the arena, the competitor’s publicity teams can drum up sponsors for them, providing food, weapons and medical supplies when possible.  Alliances are formed and ultimately tested, with Katniss unsure who to trust and who just wants her dead.

As a child growing up in the 80s a lot of books I read were post-apocalyptic, dystopian survival stories stemming from the fear of atomic war.  This is reminiscent of these books and therefore appeals to me greatly.  When I told my boyfriend I was reading it, he remarked ‘oh, so you’re an emo now?’  Perhaps this is the sort of book that would appeal to a disaffected teen, but it’s not exclusive in that, there’s a much broader appeal.

Although this is aimed primarily at teenagers, I actually found it quite exciting (and I’m a little bit older than a teenager!) It’s gruesome subject matter but not sensationalised in its style, which perhaps makes it somewhat viler.  There’s a great sense of suspicion throughout and a real cynicism as to the media’s coverage of certain news events and the public’s morbid fascination with death and devastation.

Sample Text:

“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only… I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?” he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.”
I bite my lip feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. “Do you mean you won’t kill anyone?” I ask.
“No, when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll kill just like everybody else. I can’t go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to… to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta.
“But you’re not,” I say. “None of us are. That’s how the Games work.”

Further Reading:

If you like the savage children aspect you might like The Lord Of The Flies

If you like the idea of children in a dystopian future you might like Brother In The Land

If you like the characters and storyline you might like Catching Fire

The Lord Of The Flies – William Golding

The Lord Of The Flies.  Did you know that is a literal translation of Beelzebub?  No, neither did I.

The Lord Of The Flies. Did you know that is a literal translation of Beelzebub? No, neither did I.

Oh this is a horrible book, but I love it!  Actually, the book isn’t horrible, the characters are.  What would happen in a society without adults?  As a kid, I used to dream of a world without authority, as I’m sure all kids do.  Turns out, that world is vile, sick and disturbing.

So what happens?  Basically, a plane crashes on a non-specific island in the Pacific leaving only preadolescent boys as survivors.  Three of these boys become the main characters in the book, Ralph – a level-headed leader, Piggy – an overweight bespectacled outsider and Jack – basically a bully.  Whereas Ralph is representative of order and civilisation, Piggy, as the most intellectual of the boys represents adult reason.  Jack represents all that is animalistic in human nature.

During their time on the island all the boys come to fear the ‘beast’ – a figment of their imagination brought on by their isolation.  In order to appease this beast, the boys make an offering of the ‘Lord Of The Flies’ – a decapitated pigs head, maniacally grinning as it rots on a pole.

When Simon (representative of innocence) tries to reason with the others about the existence of the beast, they turn on him, believing him to be the beast and savagely tear him apart.  After this, there is no going back, as brutality and depravity reign.  Can Ralph and Piggy restore order to their bloodthirsty comrades?  Not very likely!

Focusing as it does on young boys, this wasn’t a book that really appealed to me and I put off reading it for ages, only giving in as it’s on the BBC’s Book Challenge List.  How glad am I that I gave in?!  It’s excellent.  Disturbing and sadistic, but what a book!  This is the sort of book that once read will never be forgotten.  It’s style is easy to read and as such it’s regularly on the English Literature’s GCSE syllabus across the UK. The themes discussed are as relevant across society today as when the book was written in 1954.  It’s a story that’s keeps being reinvented and appealing to new audiences, with successes such as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.  Beyond all the brutality and vileness, The Lord Of The Flies is an adventure story with the boys battling for survival and, ultimately rescue.  What they lose in the process is their humanity, reason and innocence.

Sample Text:

“The pile of guts was a black blob of flies that buzzed like a saw. After a while these flies found Simon. Gorged, they alighted by his runnels of sweat and drank. They tickled under his nostrils and played leapfrog on his thighs. They were black and iridescent green and without number; and in front of Simon, the Lord of the Flies hung on his stick and grinned. At last Simon gave up and looked back; saw the white teeth and dim eyes, the blood—and his gaze was held by that ancient, inescapable recognition.”

Further Reading:

If you like reading about the savageness of youth you might like The Wasp Factory

If you like the struggle for survival you might like The Grapes Of Wrath

If you like the theme of lost humanity you might like Heart Of Darkness

If you like reading about a lawless society you might like The Stand

Push: A Novel – Sapphire

Push: A Novel by Sapphire.  Definitely not for the faint-hearted!

Push: A Novel by Sapphire. Definitely not for the faint-hearted!

Wow, this is a harrowing read!  Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but heavy doesn’t do it justice.  Precious Jones is an undereducated fat 16 year old.  She’s also pregnant with her second child – both kids being the result of rape by her father – the first has Down’s Syndrome  Her mother’s no good either, she regularly abuses Precious also.

Kicked out of school for being pregnant, Precious is persuaded to join the Each One Teach One School for students with troubled backgrounds.  After Precious accidentally lets slip that her mother is taking care of her daughter, resulting in her mothers loss of benefits, Precious is kicked out of home and so moves into a hostel. (what else can the poor girl suffer right?)  Turns out, a lot more… CRIPES, HOW BAD CAN IT GET?

Coconut Unlimited – Nikesh Shukla

Coconut Unlimited - took my right back to my youth

Coconut Unlimited – took my right back to my youth

Coconut Unlimited is an entertaining, nostalgic coming of age story.  What sets it apart from other such books is that the central characters are three Asian boys in an otherwise all white private school.  Isolated from their own community for being posh and not accepted by their class mates for being too Asian they decide their only chance of keeping it real and getting dope girls is to form a hip-hop trio. There is no other way.

The only trouble with this plan is that none of them have any musical knowledge or ability.  Amit (now known as Mit-Dogg) is on mic, Nishant (DJ Dangerous) is on scratching turntable duties and Anand (MC AP) is the hype-man.  Between them they have access to one turntable and a very limited supply of hip-hop.  Instead of actually performing any rap, their group (or should I say posse) spends most of its time planning how ‘fly’ and ‘cool’ they are going to be. HANDS UP IF YOU THINK THEY’LL ACHIEVE COOLNESS

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

oscar-waoOscar is a fat nerdy Dominican kid, living in New Jersey with aspirations of becoming the next JRR Tolkein.  Life isn’t easy for him, with disloyal friends, a cranky mother and a complete lack of female interest.  Perhaps more worrying than this is the fuku – the curse that has tormented his family for generations.  His only real ally is Lola, his big sister, who has troubles of her own to contend with.

This book is mostly written from the perspective of Yunior, our fictional narrator.  It is unusual in that it is written as Yunior would speak, peppered with Spanish slang, geeky comic book references and plenty of footnotes about Dominican History.  Incidentally, the footnotes are written by Yunior, not Diaz himself and therefore are to be read as part of the story.

Yunior starts off by telling us about Oscar’s childhood.  From here the book moves on to Lola’s story, Oscar’s mum’s story, Oscar’s Grandparents’ story before moving onto Yunior himself and then back to Oscar.  This is a peculiar structure for a novel, but not unheard of and it’s one that works really well in this case

It was interesting to learn about the history of the Dominican Republic (I knew zilch beforehand) but the slang and cultural references made it a good fun way of reading. There’s a touch of magical realism added by the fuku, but this is mostly a sub-plot.

There’s tragedy here, but humour too and in Oscar, Junot Diaz has created an entertaining anti-hero.  The villain of the book is really Trujillo, the real life dictator of Dominican Republic until 1952 who’s actions impact on Oscar, and ordinary Dominicans to this day.

Sample Text:

“His adolescent nerdiness vaporizing any iota of a chance he had for young love. Everybody else going through the terror and joy of their first crushes, their first dates, their first kisses while Oscar sat in the back of the class, behind his DM’s screen, and watched his adolescence stream by. Sucks to be left out of adolescence, sort of like getting locked in the closet on Venus when the sun appears for the first time in a hundred years.”


Further reading:

If you like the cultural history you might like Memoirs of a Geisha

If you like the magical realism you might like One Hundred Years of Solitude

If you like the story’s structure you might like Cloud Atlas

If you like the cultural references you might like Coconut Unlimited