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A High School Classic and a Modern Debut: Catcher in the Rye and Boys of Alabama

12 Jan

Hi all! I’m Emily Sierra, and I am a new library assistant at Hoboken Public Library! With a degree in English with a focus on creative writing, being surrounded by literature and talking about literature is almost second nature for me at this point. But what I’ve enjoyed most since graduating (and since I’ve been able to wander the stacks again) is being able to finally catch up with contemporary fiction and not just be bogged down by all the literary “Greats.”

During the summer of 2020, I picked up a book on a whim: Genevieve Hudson’s debut novel, Boys of Alabama. The first thing that instantly caught my attention was that this would be a queer coming of age story based in a state I was unfamiliar with. The second thing that made me take it home was Hudson’s use of magical realism; weaving and blending the whimsical with the mundane until they are indiscernible. Being a fan of Gabriel García Márquez, I simply had to explore this contemporary addition of the genre.

Hudson’s debut novel is gripping and haunting while at the same time stingingly relatable with characters that effortlessly crack some of the best one-liners, all of which is painted in front of the backdrop that is the sticky Alabama heat. The story centers on shy teenager Max as his family makes the move from Germany to Alabama. His sense of otherness instantly suffocates the pages; he is not just a foreigner in a new land, there is also something just off about him than from the other boys. And yet due to his physical strengths, he is taken in–or perhaps better put dissolved into–his high school’s football team. Surrounded by good old fashioned American machismo, beer, and the Bible, Max adjusts and readjusts himself to mold into this new idea of manhood. However, upon meeting the school’s “witch” and openly gay student Pan, Max must see and confront aspects of himself he would rather have melt away in the Alabama humidity.  

Staring at my bookshelf, I could see a strange parallel to make with the ever classic and timeless syllabus-stuffer J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

I had re-read Catcher during a rather bleak summer break my junior year of college (I even read the two books during the same season, look at that!). No longer a sneaky AP kid in high school relying on Sparknotes, I read the book for myself and just myself. And what difference it had made! I am sure Catcher needs no proper introduction. However, Holden Caulfield, the book’s contested and often (rightfully) ridiculed protagonist, no longer was an annoying, incomprehensible character for me to force a 5-paragraph essay on. He was a developed character filled with nuance, one that raised a magnifying glass to the many absurdities of forced masculinity, of what growing up too quickly and too soon can do to a kid. Holden tosses himself into problem after problem, loudly proclaiming the world to be full of phonies and yet bitterly aware that he may be the biggest phony of them all–a timeless conflict, really, and one even more compelling for a teenage boy to face. 

Both Max and Holden embark on their own personal odysseys, both literal and internal. Forced to face teens their own age who can be cruel while surrounded by adults who are even crueler, both young men reflect and re-reflect, contradict themselves and contradict themselves again as they struggle to catch a glimpse of who they truly want to be. Reading the two together, it is clear that even since its publication in 1951, the ripples of Catcher in the Rye and its haunting image of boyhood is still felt in the novels of today. Whimsical imagery coupled by the red hot anger of adolescent boys, both writers paint stark and gripping images of teens on the brink of adulthood. 

Thankfully, both Catcher in the Rye and Boys of Alabama are available in print through the BCCLS Libraries (and you can even score a Catcher in the Rye study guide if you have an upcoming assignment)!

Written by:
Emily Sierra
Library Assistant

Books Our Patrons Loved in 2021: The Most Frequently Checked Out ebooks from eBCCLS in 2021          

29 Dec

The staff has had a great time sharing their favorites with you throughout the year.  I thought a fun way to wrap up 2021 would be to look at what books were the most popular with our BCCLS library patrons so I looked up the top 10 ebook checkouts of 2021 as of December 21.     

Nine Perfect Strangers: A Novel               
by Liane Moriarty
Nine Perfect Strangers was checked out as an ebook 3,642 by BCCLS Library Card holders who couldn’t get enough of the thrilling tale of a group of people at a luxury health resort in the Australian bush recently adapted as a streaming series.  

The Four Winds: A Novel
by Kristin Hannah
The Four Winds was the number two checkout for eBCCLS and the number one checkout for eLibraryNJ, another Overdrive service our Hoboken patrons have access to.  Hannah’s tale set in 1934 Texas focuses on Elsa Martinelli who must decide whether to continue to struggle to keep the land she loves or to go further west in hopes of a better life.

The Last Thing He Told Me: A Novel                                        
by Laura Dave
Hannah’s husband disappears during their first year of marriage, leaving behind only one request that she protects her 16 year old step daughter, Bailey.  Together they uncover a surprising truth in The Last Thing He Told Me!

People We Meet on Vacation                                   
by Emily Henry
Can a friendly flirtation from the past turn in to something more for Alex and Poppy? Lots of you found out with this fun summer read, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry!

Bridgerton Collection, Volume 1: Bridgerton Series, Books 1-3   
by Julia Quinn
I was one of the many who became a fan of the Netfilix ‘s adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series.  If you can’t wait for the next season of this historic romance, you can checkout like many of our readers the books in the series including the Volume One Compilation of the first three books!

Malibu Rising: A Novel                                  
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Set in the 80’s, Reid’s Malibu Rising delves beneath the waves of surf culture and finds deep family drama.

The Push: A Novel                                          
by Ashley Audrain
Ashley Audrain’s psychological family drama, The Push, explores our culture’s relationship with motherhood.  It was part of The Good Morning America Book Club.

by Harlan Coben
Win, the nickname of the vigilante antihero narrator of the novel, must solve a crime from his family’s past when new evidence turns up.  If you are a fan of Coben’s other thrillers you will want to check out Win.

Golden Girl                                        
by Elin Hilderbrand
After a hit and run an author finds she can still keep an eye on her children and is given three chances to alter events back on earth in Hilderbrand’s touching novel, Golden Girl.  

The Wife Upstairs: A Novel                                         
by Rachel Hawkins
Recently reviewed by one of our staff, The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins is a modernized retelling of Jane Eyre.

What book was your must read in 2021?  Share it in the comment section!

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Information and Digital Services Manager

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