Catcher in the Rye recounts a teenager's desperate struggle to accept and understand the adult world, which he thinks is fake. Holden Caulfield is expelled from Pencey Prep High School for failing too many courses. Instead of going home to his parents, he spends a few days wandering around New York City on his own. He calls some old acquaintances, goes into bars, tries to hire a prostitute, and sneaks in a visit to his beloved younger sister.
One of the main themes in the book is phoniness. Holden complains bitterly about people who pretend to be something they're not. Yet he himself does a fair share of pretending. Even worse, I think Holden knows that he is just as bad as the rest of the world. For example, Holden loathes most of his schoolmates and treats them with indifference, but misses them when he is alone in New York. He tries to impress some older women with a string of lies, justifying it by saying that the women are phonies and deserve nothing but phoniness in return. Although Holden says good things about an old teacher, he can't bear to talk with the guy for more than a few minutes.
The only people that Holden truly care about are an old love interest named Jane, and his younger sister Phoebe. Holden hasn't seen Jane in a long time, but then discovers that she has a date with his phony roommate. From then on, Holden is desperately eager to talk to her again, but never actually calls her. Perhaps he's afraid that she's become one of the pretenders, as evidenced by her date with his roommate. Or perhaps Holden thinks that he himself is too phony to deserve her, and so he ignores her much like he ignored his teacher.
Phoebe, on the other hand, is still young and innocent. She reminds Holden of what it's like to ride on the carousel in Central Park or go on field trips to the museum. Phoebe is very impressionable, and when Holden tells her of his plan to run away, she insists on going with him. It is this indication of her love for Holden that brings him out of his depression. Phoebe shows him that there is still honesty in the world, and he agrees not to run away, to save her from going down the same path as him.
Unlike many other people, I didn't think that Holden's feelings closely mirrored my own experiences. I did enjoy Holden's wry observations, and many of the clever metaphors. Although he often puts on an act for the world, his narrative is honest. I also liked Salinger's attention to details, such as where the ducks go in the winter, which made the characters more human.