Whether read for school or pleasure, J.D. Salinger’s novel can leave teens scavenging libraries for more books like Catcher in the Rye.
Since its debut in 1951, the realistic fiction novel has sold over 65 million copies. Readers were drawn into 16-year-old Holden Caulfield’s three-day adventure after flunking out of the exclusive Pencey Preparatory Academy. Each controversial page of profanity, substance abuse, and sex intrigued audiences with his search for himself in the concrete jungle of New York City. Told from a tuberculosis rest home, the self-discovery tale has made Holden an icon for teenage rebellion. According to Modern Library, it’s among the 100 best English-language novels of the century.
Rereading your dog-eared copy of this American classic can be insightful, but there are other books like Catcher in the Rye that provide perfect follow-ups. The young adult genre is bursting with fast-paced, acerbic novels that can amuse and challenge you with self-insight. Books like Catcher in the Rye transcend mere words to speak directly to issues faced by maturing adolescents. Many YA authors have penned relatable tales that deal with loss of innocence, first love, phoniness, alienation, and grief. These books don’t shy away from dissecting the painful experiences that make entering adulthood so complex.
So when you’re looking for more reads that elucidate your own frustrations, consider the following books like Catcher in the Rye.
#1 – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of Mark Twain’s Great American novels set on the Mississippi River during the Antebellum Period. Huck and his best friend, Tom Sawyer, have reaped a considerable fortune from their last adventure. Together the young boys plot an escape from the Widow Douglas’ confining ways to join Tom’s band of “robbers.” But plans change when Huck’s abusive, alcoholic father returns and forcibly moves him to Illinois.
#2 – The Virgin Suicides
Published in 1993, Jeffrey Eugenides’ macabre first novel takes place in a sleepy suburb of Detroit, Michigan, during the early 1970s. One by one the peculiar Lisbon family’s five daughters – Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary, and Therese – commit suicide. A group of neighborhood teenage boys witnesses the tragic acts. Solving the mystery of the beautiful girls’ deadly depression soon becomes their obsession.
#3 – On the Jellicoe Road
This Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel portrays the life of Taylor Lily Markham, a 17-year-old reluctantly leading a boarding school in New South Wales. Since she was abandoned by her mother at 11, Taylor’s only role model has been Hannah, a reclusive writer. Suddenly Hannah vanishes just when the territory feud begins between the Townies and visiting Cadets. Can Taylor piece together the clues Hannah’s left behind?
#4 – Rats Saw God
Rats Saw God follows the four high school years of Steve York, the son of a world-famous astronaut. As a sophomore, Steve’s on top of the world with popular friends and a gorgeous girlfriend. By senior year, he’s become a bummed out underachiever with a marijuana habit. Steve’s only chance at graduation is writing a 100-page essay. Thus begins the story of how the former National Merit Scholar’s life detoured.
#5 – A Complicated Kindness
Nomi Nickel is a 16-year-old trapped in a small Mennonite town called East Village in Manitoba. She spends her days working at Happy Family Farms while dreaming of living in NYC’s East Village. Despite conflict with the Church’s pastor, Hans Rosenfeldt, Nomi stays dutiful out of loyalty to her dejected father, Ray. She seeks to restore the family shattered by the fundamentalist religion, but is it too late?
#6 – Project X
Similar to books like Catcher in the Rye, Project X tells the story of Edwin Hanratty, a junior high boy stuck at the bottom of the food chain. His schoolmates consider him prey and ruthlessly demoralize him daily. Edwin’s living a nightmare of loneliness with only one friend, Flake, to confide in. Together the misfits create a vengeful plot for terrifying release of their fury.
#7 – Vernon God Little
Granted the prestigious Man Booker Prize, Vernon God Little is a black comedy novel centered on a 15-year-old Texan teenager whose life has fallen apart. Vernon’s best friend, Jesus, murdered several classmates before committing suicide. In the aftermath, Vernon is hauled in for questioning by Deputy Vain Gurie. A series of events makes Vernon look increasingly guilty of conspiring with Jesus. Can he overcome being the town’s scapegoat?
#8 – To Kill a Mockingbird
Adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962, this Southern Gothic novel paints the classic story of six-year-old Scout Finch. Living in Maycomb, Alabama, Scout’s father Atticus has been appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Scout and her brother Jem are mocked by other children for Atticus’ actions. But Scout bravely stands up for her father’s honor, even when the spiteful Bob Ewell plots revenge.
#9 – Speak
Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino is starting her freshman year at Merryweather High. While attending an end-of-summer party, Andy, a popular senior, rapes her. Melinda calls the police, but can’t find the words to say what happened. Everyone begins shunning her for busting the party. Sinking into depression, Melina practically stops talking altogether. Art becomes her only solace for facing the tragic attack. When Andy threatens her again, Melina must find courage to speak up.
#10 – The Namesake
Another of the books like Catcher in the Rye from a Pulitzer-winning author is The Namesake. After an arranged marriage, young Bengali newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima are leaving Calcutta, India, for the United States. They emigrate to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the birth of their first son. Ashoke suggests naming their son after Nikolai Gogol, the Russian author. But as Gogol grows, he begins resenting his name and the first-generation burden.
#11 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Christopher John Francis Boone, our curious 15-year-old protagonist, is an outsider. He knows every prime number to 7,057, but can’t relate with humans or stand being touched. Christopher forms a bond with the Shears family’s poodle, Wellington. So when the dog is found murdered with a garden tool, Christopher becomes the first suspect. Despite his father’s warning, he becomes obsessed with finding Wellington’s real killer.
#12 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Set in the Pittsburgh suburbs, Chbosky’s coming-of-age novel introduces a shy, introverted wallflower named Charlie. On the brink of adulthood, Charlie’s struggling with the suicide of his best friend Michael and death of his favorite aunt Helen. He reveals his emotions by writing letters to an unspecified recipient. Through his written words, readers follow Charlie’s battle against depression with two new friends, Patrick and Sam.
#13 – Looking for Alaska
Looking for Alaska is one of the newer books like Catcher in the Rye taught in many high school curricula. Often compared to Holden Caulfield, Miles Halter is a high school junior fascinated with celebrities’ last words. In search of his “Great Perhaps,” Miles moves to a boarding school in Alabama. Here he’s introduced to the wild, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska Young. Once she steals Miles’ heart, nothing will be the same.
#14 – Lord of the Flies
In the midst of nuclear war, a British plane is evacuating residents when it mysteriously crashes into a remote Pacific island. The only survivors are a group of pre-adolescent boys. Ralph uses a conch shell to unite the boys in one area. Along with Jack and Simon, Ralph forms a triumvirate of leadership to plot their rescue. But semblance of order quickly deteriorates as paranoia about the island’s “monster” grows.
#15 – Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Blue van Meer, a young cinematic genius, is the eccentric daughter of professor Gareth van Meer. Since her mother’s death, Blue has been shuffled along as Gareth travels from college to college every semester. By her senior year, she finally settles at St. Gallway School. She becomes accepted into an elite clique called the Bluebloods. One drowning later and Blue is thrust into a puzzling murder mystery.
#16 – Small as an Elephant
Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Jack’s mother has always been an impulsive, whirlwind of energy. But he never expected her to abandon him at their campsite in Maine’s Acadia National Park. Jack’s left alone in the backwoods with only a small toy elephant and scarcely enough money for food. Determined to figure out his mother’s disappearance, Jack begins the perilous journey back home to Boston while outrunning the Department of Social Services.
#17 – The Outsider
Ranked among Le Monde’s “100 Books of the Century,” The Outsider is a French novel about Meursault, a citizen of France who’s domiciled in North Africa. He helps his neighbor, Raymond, take revenge on his girlfriend suspected of cheating. However, the girlfriend’s brother and several Arab friends begin trailing him. Plagued with heatstroke, Meursault fatally shoots one man. Readers watch as the trial and incarceration swallow his life.
#18 – Less Than Zero
Bret Easton Ellis
Named after the Elvis Costello song, Less Than Zero transports audiences to 1980s Los Angeles. Clay, a rich college student, comes home for Christmas break and reenters the privileged world shaped by sex, cocaine, and nihilism. He reconnects with his high school girlfriend Blair and best friend Julian. Soon Clay’s holiday spirals out of control with glitzy, drug-induced parties. The novel continues in the sequel, Imperial Bedrooms.
#19 – A Separate Peace
Set at a New England boarding school, A Separate Peace depicts two adolescent boys’ loss of innocence at the country battled World War II. Gene Forrester is a shy, lonely academic. Phineas is a handsome, outdoing athlete. Despite being opposites, Gene and Finny bond. For initiation in the “Super Suicide Society,” the boys must jump from a tree into the Devon River. But a sudden fall shatters Finny’s leg and their friendship.
#20 – Fight Club
Fight Club follows an unnamed, despondent narrator struggling with a dead-end job and endless insomnia. Inspired by his doctor, the man becomes a “tourist” attending support group meetings under false pretenses. He meets a charismatic, enigmatic man named Tyler Durden. Both men discover they find relief from ensuing fistfights. Together they hold secret boxing matches in bar basements. But Durden’s club soon evolves into a radical terrorist group.
#21 – On the Road
Inspired by books like Catcher in the Rye, Jack Kerouac’s counterculture novel focuses on Sal Paradise, a reclusive writer holed up in his Aunt’s house. His friend, Dean Moriarty, persuades Sal to hit the road for a cross-country bohemian odyssey. From the seven train in New York City to his San Francisco destination, readers experience the highs and lows of hitchhiking in Sal’s search for free-spirited adventure.
#22 – Slaughterhouse-Five
Billy Pilgrim is a chaplain’s assistant serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. After being captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, a disoriented Billy believes he’s “stuck in time” and abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians. With the other POWs, Billy is taken to a Saxony slaughterhouse for slave labor. Here he provides a firsthand account of the infamous Allied firebombing of Dresden.
#23 – We The Animals
Written in 2011, Justin Torres’ debut bildungsroman is told by an unnamed narrator growing up in a Puerto Rican American family in Upstate New York. Several vignettes detail his childhood with two tight-knit brothers, Manny and Joel, and parents stuck in an unhappy marriage. His abused mother struggles to keep the family afloat. But the narrator’s secret fantasies threaten to burst the home bubble forever.
#24 – Black Swan Green
Black Swan Green is among the books like Catcher in the Rye depicting boyhood on the cusp of adulthood. Jason Taylor is a 13-year-old teenager living in a sleepy Worcestershire village during Cold War England. Faced with a speech disorder, Jason must navigate his school’s hierarchy and his parents’ slow-motion divorce. The coming-of-age tale progresses through first kisses, first smokes, and first deaths in the 1982 Falklands War.
#25 – Code Name Verity
Set in Nazi-occupied France in 1943, this Golden Kite Honor winner creates historical fiction about a British spy plane that crashes in Ormaie. Onboard are two best friends, a pilot named “Kittyhawk” and spy named “Verity.” The latter is arrested by the Gestapo. While detained, Verity is forced to write a confession about the British’s war campaign. Her handwritten account details her friendship with the pilot and courageous fight against the enemy.
#26 – The Camp of the Innocents
Based on a true story, The Camp of the Innocents shares the experiences of a young teenage boy attending summer camp in the post-communist Balkans. The 168-page novel tells of the difficult life lessons the boy learns. Good battles evil, truth trumps lie, and friendship collides with betrayal in Yasen Kalaidjieff’s debut. Fans of books like Catcher in the Rye will enjoy the philosophical, yet entertaining action.
#27 – Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
James Sveck is an isolated, cynical 18-year-old living in Manhattan who’s set to attend Brown University. As the child of divorce, James confides in his kind grandmother about his lack of enthusiasm for college. Instead, he longs for beautiful old houses in the safety of the American Midwest. From sessions with his canny therapist to fake online dating, this novel captures the turbulence of young adulthood.
#28 – Old School
Initially published in The New Yorker, this novel collects short stories about an unnamed high school senior attending an elite boarding school in 1960. He’s an outcast who spends more time with English masters to develop his writing passion. Winning the upcoming literary contest and meeting an accomplished writer becomes his sole focus. As the competition heats, he must overcome his cowardice and fraying alliances.
#29 – King Dork
Frank Portman’s debut novel paints a first-person narrative of Tom Henderson, a 14-year-old starting his sophomore year in San Francisco. Self-proclaimed “King Dork,” Tom struggles to cope with nasty classmates and heartless administrators. As a fan of 1970s hard rock, Tom attempts to start a band with his friend Sam Hellerman and recruit Todd Panchowski. But when he finds his deceased father’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, life turns upside down.
#30 – Flowers for Algernon
This Hugo Award-winning science fiction novel is written about Charlie Gordon, an unintelligent man working menial jobs as a janitor. He’s selected to undergo a surgical experiment to increase his IQ score. Already proven successful on the lab mouse Algernon, the surgery makes Charlie a genius. However, he discovers that getting smarter has created grave problems with his co-workers and new love interest, Miss Kinnian.
Replacing J.D. Salinger’s beloved novel is unimaginable; however, these 30 great books like Catcher in the Rye offer more powerful, insightful reads filled with teenage angst and rebellion.