Modern Novels to Pair with Classics: Catcher in the Rye


Give modern spins to classic reads. While the classics are classics, they are also outdated and there are so many modern titles that are worthy of classroom time, so I’ve been creating a paired list of modern novels to classic works. Read on to see my suggestions for
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Classic Focus

Angst and alienation prevail in this novel. The Catcher in the Rye has become a timeless coming-of-age story focusing on Holden Caulfield and the process of leaving childhood behind. 

When students begin their study of this novel, I focus on a few major themes that I can mirror in my modern selections. Dealing with a phony world, and navigating the end of childhood are two central ideas, but there’s also alienation and the general angst Holden feels.


Modern Pairings

There are many options for this novel. That’s one of the best reasons to still teach classics; we still use them as inspiration! Depending on your class culture, the skill level of your students, and their general interests, you have options to bring to the table. Like any read, remember to vet the content and make your best judgment as to what you will offer students. Here are a few of my favorites. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 

I think Charlie Kelmeckis is one of the best characters to use as a modern example for Holden Caulfield. The Perks of Being a Wallflower circles around passivity and passion in the high school world.

There are many common themes between the two novels. Both are inner-musings of the main character, and both focus on the angsty teenage life of those who feel alienated.  

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman

How do people who care survive if your world believes that kindness is weakness? This novel follows a fifteen-year-old boy from an abusive home. He desperately seeks his older brother’s love and approval, leading him to push drugs and suffer the consequences. 

There are a few connections, the desire to feel belonging and not fitting in being central. Students might also discuss those things we desire (such as love, success, and belonging) that we struggle with understanding or obtaining. Holden, for example, says the only person to understand him is his sister. The young man in this novel similarly strives to have his brother’s approval. 


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez

Julia struggles with the “perfect Mexican daughter” role after her sister, the true perfect Mexican daughter, passes away tragically. Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away for college or even move from their parents’ home. As Julia tries to fill the gap her sister left behind, she copes with her own grief as well as her mother’s, as well as grappling with the reality that her sister might not have been as perfect as she seemed. 

In addition to a common theme about the adult or “real world” being disappointing and difficult to navigate, students may also notice similarities between Julia and Holden. Both are the “black sheep” of the family, dealing with becoming their own person as well as the backlash from family when they don’t fit the mold. 

Do you have favorite modern tellings for The Catcher in the Rye that your students love? What activities help solidify broader concepts and themes with your students? Share here or check out Facebook and Instagram for more ideas!




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