Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The OutsidersThe Outsiders is a book that delves deeply into the hearts, minds, and stories of a group that had no voice before S. E. Hinton gave them one. She began writing the book at age 15, spurred on by the disturbing trend she saw growing in her high school towards division between groups. "I was worried and angered by the social situation," Hinton writes. "I saw two groups at the extreme ends of the social scale behaving in an idiotic fashion -- one group was being condemned and one wasn't.... When a friend of mine was beaten up for no other reason than that some people didn't like the way he combed his hair, I took my anger out by writing about it."

Thirty years after it was first published, The Outsiders still carries the same frightening and unifying messages for teens (and readers of all ages). The ruthlessly realistic and violent story of the Greasers and the Socs, rival gangs from very different sides of the railroad tracks, is narrated by Ponyboy Curtis, a smart, sensitive kid who has grown to become one of the most recognizable figures in the history of young adult literature. Any teen who has ever felt isolated or different can identify with Ponyboy, a kid forced to be tough on the outside, but who underneath is just as scared and needy as anyone. Hinton herself has said that she has never written a character as close to her own self as Ponyboy is. Young Adult fiction was shaped and defined by Susan Eloise Hinton, and the realism she attached to the genre became the norm, enabling later writers like Robert Cormier and Judy Blume to find characters and voices that actually spoke to adolescents. Since 1967, Ponyboy has become the hero for countless teenagers nationwide as The Outsiders stands to influence an entire new legion of adolescents who need Ponyboy as much as ever. (Summary from Barnes and Noble)

To be honest, if I’d never heard anything about The Outsiders, I don’t think I would have felt drawn to it. Yet it’s considered a YA classic, and one day when I was volunteering at my local library and shelving books, this novel jumped out at me. I was pleasantly surprised.

This novel is definitely not a fluffy read. It’s the story of people struggling to get by amidst discrimination. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t think I would be able to relate to the characters who consider themselves greasers. I’m not sure that I even know anyone who I would consider a greaser.

Part of the reason why I enjoyed this book as much as I did is because the plot is a perfect mixture of action, suspense and emotion. Ponyboy’s problems are real and honest, and while I’ve never gotten into a fight on the streets, I can relate to his struggles of grief and not always getting along with family. While I connected most with Ponyboy, I loved that his friends weren’t just greasers but people with ambitions and interests. Soda was probably my favorite character.

Despite my initial reservations, I understand why The Outsiders is a classic, and it’s a book that will stay with me for quite some time. The content of this novel is often violent, but I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it over to a teenager or an adult, because I think Hinton conveys an important message about choices and mobility.

Disclosure: I checked out a copy of this book from my awesome local library.

4 comments:

  1. It is an important message. And a beautiful book. I'm so glad you read it. Soda is great. I love Pony and Johnny and Dally. Geez, I love all of them. :)

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  2. This is an enlightening post. One purpose of good literature is to find the humanity we hold in common in characters who could seem very different from us. But we are more alike than different. I really don't believe that teenagers are all that different from what I was as a teenager. I teach college and I find that I really like and understand my students. Marketers are the ones who try to convince us we're all so different. But they are just as wrong as the racists are. We must reach out to each other: we all have in common our humanness. Please visit my blog and webiste. Thanks! :)

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  3. The Outsiders was a great book (still is) and the themes even resonate today. To be honest, maybe more so today where the divides seem bigger and more explosive!

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  4. I have no idea why I have never read this book before. I loved it. I couldn't put it down. It's the timeless tale of rich vs. poor, haves vs. have-nots, and the struggle to understand a perspective that is not your own. Beautifully written, and I was surprised to realize that Hinton was a woman and wrote the book in high school.
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