I hope that you’re ready for an extremely cliché post (that’s probably been done on blogs across the nation), because here comes my 19-year-old self.

Yesterday J.D. Salinger died at the age of 91.

The Catcher in the Rye is probably every teenager’s favorite book (unless you’re a smoker or like to cuss a lot, then it’s probably A Clockwork Orange). I read Catcher about 10 times as a teenager, and every time I felt like it was written specifically for me. Holden Caulfield: the boy me, my brother from another mother.

When I moved from one high school to another at the pivotal age of 15, Holden was the only one who knew my pain and my loneliness. He felt everything as strongly as I did, and at the end of the book, when he breaks down thinking about being a catcher in the rye, I felt like he was breaking for both of us. This reminds me of another story. When Germany experienced a rash of suicides after the publication of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (in which the protagonist loves and loses and kills himself), an interviewer asked Goethe why he didn’t kill himself as well. Goethe replied, “I didn’t need to. I wrote the book.” Holden Caulfield did the things that I wanted to do—he ran away, he cried, he was put into a mental hospital—and prevented me from needing to.

Was anyone a teenager other than me and Holden Caulfield?

I know that this is probably every young Catcher reader’s story: The Catcher in the Rye moved me. It changed me. It’s my favorite book.

When I was in college I had a very long and very deep conversation with a girl (whose name I don’t even remember) about what understood. I remember clearly that she felt that she understood the Dave Matthews Band better than anyone else in the world. She got their music in a way that no one else could have. And while I thought that was ridiculous and pretentious even at the time, I also remember clearly nodding my head and telling her that that’s the way I felt about The Catcher in the Rye. No one else was Holden the way I was Holden.

Since then I’ve read a lot of really great books, and made a lot of new literary boyfriends (Hawthorne, Hardy), but Salinger was my first.

I encourage all of my students to read it—but to read it before they’re too old.

I gave a copy of Catcher to both my siblings when they were 16. When I gave it to my brother, I tried to read it again. But I was too old. (I was 26.) Or maybe I just knew the book too well. Or maybe it’s the kind of book that comes around again. I sure hope so.

Of course, my dream is that Salinger has left something even more magnificent behind. As J recently tweeted: I’m holding out hope that Salinger left 10,000 pages of unpublished manuscripts in his closet. Could Salinger succeed again and take me by the emotional hand through my early adult years? Probably not—the guy was a recluse for most of his adult life. But still, there might be a pearl in there somewhere…

So long, Jerry Salinger. On behalf of teenage greenapril, thank you.

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