‘My Salinger Year’ Summary & Analysis – An Aspiring Writer Trying To Protect Her Sanctuary


An artist is always stuck between art and economics. Mostly because in modern times, art can only buy happiness. Joanna, the naive protagonist of My Salinger Year moves to New York City with aspirations to become a writer. But a 1995 New York isn’t a place everyone can afford. To support her expenses, Joanna starts working as an assistant at one of New York’s oldest literary agencies. Her boss, Margaret isn’t the lady who likes writers as assistants and that’s where Joanna snubs her dreams.

To her surprise, Margaret’s agency represents one of the most notorious novelists of those times, J. D. Salinger. Though as a fiction lover, Joanna has never read Salinger or his famous work, The Catcher in the Rye. Margaret assigns Joanna the job to type the audio scripts and reply to J. D. Salinger’s fan mail that arrives at the office, often. Salinger himself doesn’t want to be bothered with those mails and thus, the agency is supervised to reply to them with a generic rejection, “J. D. Salinger does not read fan mail.”

While being occupied with the work of a typist, Joanna struggles in her personal life. A long-distance relationship she hasn’t heard in months. Joanna moves on with another boy, Don in a new apartment for a new start. In between these new beginnings, the dream of becoming a writer just doesn’t seem to vanish, even with time. 

During lunch, where Joanna erupts accident, a friend of Margaret asks Joanna, “Are you a novelist yourself?” Before she can reply, Margaret peeps in and says, “She is my assistant. I don’t hire writers.” The single sentence which started off as a lie to get the job became a piercing arrow for Joanna’s tender heart. The novelist unknowingly tells Joanna what it takes to be a writer. Joanna listens, controlling back her tears as if her own dreams are tearing her apart.

“You really have to love it. You have to want it more than anything in the entire world, more than a boyfriend, or a closet full of pretty dresses or a fancy job that makes everyone jealous. You need to be OK with saying no when invited to a party. And you really need to be OK with your mother and father hating you.”

Unable to manage the expenses, Joanna keeps working in the agency and writing responses to the fan mails. She is not able to control herself and ends up writing humane words to a girl wishing to hear from J. D. Salinger. The response results in a screw-up and Joanna is left with a warning, not to repeat the mistake again. She stops writing for herself.

J. D. Salinger, whose shadow keeps hovering over the narrative, acts as a catalyst to Joanna’s dreams. He often hears her, if she is a writer, to which Joanna responded affirmatively after a bit of hesitation.

“So write. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes in the morning. Protect that sanctuary. Don’t get stuck answering the phone. You’re a poet.”

J.D. Salinger

A trial of events and a push by Salinger makes Joanna read The Catcher in the Rye. The words in the books, “the quiet emotional” make her move out of the chains of society and commerce and break free as a writer. She realizes that she never came to New York to become a literary agent or a typist. She wanted to be a writer. Later in My Salinger Year, Margaret offers Joanna a cheer-up for selling her first story, it is when Joanna tells her boss about her aspirations in life.

Joanna leaves Don whom she doesn’t love, she leaves the job she doesn’t love and starts doing what she loves. Joanna writes like a writer and submits her book of poems in The New Yorker. It is the moment, an artist liberates herself.

Based on the memoir written by Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year is a sweet, subtle, inspiring, and engaging story of a writer trapped in society. If someone wishes to experience, what the words of a person could do to another, then My Salinger Year is a perfect example. Just a book and a writer’s calling to write every day, inspire Joanna to make a change in life, necessary for her own dreams. The film written and directed by Philippe Falardeau is all beautiful till its core and Margaret Qualley shines as Joanna. Her innocence and naiveness make you fall in love with her.

My Salinger Year is available for Video on Demand.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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