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)
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.