I really appreciate the comments people have made, thank you.
Several folks talked about being asked to identify with protagonists, though What Now? points out that she doesn't ask that of her high school students. So I was thinking about that, and trying to remember back to my high school experience.
I don't remember any of my HS English teachers pushing identification, to be honest. We read a very white, male canon. As I recall, my high school teachers included Dr. Vaughn, an African American woman who had the misfortune to teach me twice! Ms. Jackson, a young, quite hip white woman, and Mr. Robinson, an African American man. I'm guessing they didn't get a lot of choice in the curriculum.
I think they were pretty sophisticated teachers, and handled pretty big classes with a good deal more kindness than I certainly deserved.
So, why do I remember my high school English classes with such dissatisfaction?
I think I was just a cranky, unhappy in the most petty and boring ways teenager. Anything I was made to do, I pretty much resented. I liked band the things I chose more because I chose them than anything else.
And the more I thought about Salinger (which I think I read in Ms. Jackson's American lit course, as a junior), I wonder if the whole "oh, this is so risque" attitude didn't feel flat to me, since I grew up in an era and area where a high schooler running around NYC wasn't nearly as scary as Zodiac or the Manson family, nor as exotic as the Haight, nor as challenging to my basic ideas (white, middle class) as the Black Panthers. Disaffected in my world might mean the SLA, and wasn't something that seemed the least bit attractive to a white, middle class girl.
The kids who were angry at my school were angry at real things, racism especially (but also relieved not to be worried about the Vietnam draft); some of us, and I was one, were biding our time, knowing we'd go away to college soon and get out of the suburbs.
Also, New York didn't have my attention; it wasn't on my radar. I wonder if that's a regional or experience thing? I've still only been to NYC once. It's a great city, as is Tokyo, for example, but it's not my City.
So then I got to thinking about the books I was reading that really grabbed my imagination. And I realized that I read very much for plot and setting, and with absolutely no appreciation for style. Maybe that's why Hemingway didn't grab me? I wasn't ready to appreciate style? Would I enjoy the books for style more now?
I loved books such as Paddle to the Sea (I know, it's a kids's book, but still), Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, Never Cry Wolf, In the Shadow of Man. I see a pattern here: I liked books that were about people striking out on their own, even though (or because) I had absolutely no wilderness experience. And I wasn't being told to identify with them, but was choosing to read and reread them because I did identify, and gender didn't much matter to me.
I was also starting to read books my neighbor suggested, Leon Uris, James Michener, big epic type books that took on more than a kid being cranky. Those books led me to Cancer Ward and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and those led me to The Gulag Archipelago (I know!) and into my depressive Russian lit era.
I think Holden Caulfield just couldn't compete with that sort of stuff in my adolescent imagination, and I certainly wasn't really aware of style or anything, so I wasn't "getting" his voice.
I wonder if, growing up in the suburbs, I felt an urge to turn one way or the other, toward urban or rural life, and at that time rural life seemed better? So my reading choices were often moving in a direction opposite to Holden's. (If so, that's amusing because now I'm more comfortable in urban settings, though I live in a semi-rural one.)