It wasn’t fair for the Socs to have everything. We were as good as they were; it wasn’t our fault we were greasers. I couldn’t just take it or leave it, like Two-Bit, or ignore it and love life anyway, like Sodapop, or harden myself beyond caring, like Dally, or actually enjoy it, like Tim Shepard. I felt the tension growing inside of me and I knew something had to happen or I would explode.
(from The Outsiders, page 47)
S.E. Hinton’s classic young adult novel, The Outsiders, first published in 1967, is one I missed during my school years, but it proved to be another case of better late than never. The Girl (age 12) recently read it in her reading class, and it became her newest favorite book. Her class also watched the 1983 film adaptation, and I bought it for her because she couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved it. So I wasn’t surprised when she begged me to read the book, mainly because she has been talking about this book for weeks but didn’t want to spoil it for me and also because she really wants me to watch the movie with her but insisted I can’t do that until I read the book. I was so happy to see her so excited about a book that I couldn’t refuse.
The Outsiders is narrated by 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and mainly deals with the clashes between the town’s rival gangs, the greasers and the Socs (short for the Socials). The greasers, to which Ponyboy, his brothers, and his friends belong, are seen as hoods because of their penchant for long hair and hair oil, along with the fact that they smoke and drink, fight, and shoplift. Most people think that’s all there is to know about the greasers, but they would be wrong.
Ponyboy doesn’t like to fight. He loves movies, reading, and sunsets. He is a thinker, and he constantly questions why things are the way they are, basically why the Socs are the “haves” and the greasers are the “have-nots.” Through his honest narrative, readers come to know the boys that make up his family: his stern oldest brother, Darry, who was forced to give up his dreams of college to take care of his brothers when their parents died; his other brother, Sodapop, a happy-go-lucky high school dropout; Two-Bit, known for his ability to shoplift and for his wisecracks; Dally, who is known for being tough, cold, and always in trouble with the law; Steve, Sodapop’s best friend, who unlike the rest of the gang, sees Ponyboy as an annoying kid; and Johnny, who is quiet and shy, abused by his parents, and scared ever since he was badly beaten up by the Socs.
One night, Ponyboy goes to a drive-in movie with Dally and Johnny, where they meet Cherry and Marcia, two Socs who are alone because they ditched their drunk boyfriends. Ponyboy gets a chance to talk to Cherry and realizes she is different than most Socs. His troubles begin later on, when the girls’ boyfriends catch them walking home with the greasers, he has a fight with Darry about coming home late, and runs off with Johnny in anger. What happens next changes Ponyboy’s outlook on life.
I didn’t expect The Outsiders to be so well-written and so deep when I learned that Hinton began writing the book when she was only 15. The Girl was right in her prediction that I would cry. There is plenty of action, a cast of well-crafted characters, and even some melodrama, which is to be expected in a book written by a teenager and told from the point of view of a teenager, so I wasn’t bothered by it at all.
At its core, The Outsiders is about friendship and how we love our closest friends as family. It’s about recognizing that even as society categorizes people, and despite all our differences, we essentially are the same. We all want to be loved and accepted, and we all have dreams and desires. The book shines in its characters and in its timelessness. Even though they were lumped into a single group and judged accordingly, the characters retained their individuality. Readers can see their potential to be more than what society has branded them and to rise above the circumstances that have defined their lives. These are people who you probably know or knew, in some way, in your real life, and they grow to feel like friends over the course of the book.
The Outsiders is a book that has been challenged and banned in schools for gang violence, smoking, drinking, and the lack of strong parental role models, but I’m glad my daughter was introduced to this book at school because she and I might have missed it otherwise. Of course, the characters aren’t good role models for kids, but there is so much about this book that is good. It features a brother who gives up everything to do what’s right for his family and shows how nothing good comes out of fighting, the importance of not judging others based on their appearance or their social class, how friendship can carry you through tough times, and the importance of questioning and challenging the status quo when something is wrong or unfair. I’ll never know how this book would have affected me as a teenager; I’m just glad to have read it.
The Girl’s Thoughts on The Outsiders
*I loved everything about this book from start to finish.
*I loved the action. It made the pages fly by.
*I loved the description. I could picture what happened in my mind.
*I loved the characters. They all had their own personalities. My favorite character is Two-Bit Mathews. He does bad things but is funny and a good person deep down.
*This was a great book to turn into a movie. I have watched it many times since finishing the book. It sticks to the book for the most part and brings it to life.
*Now I have to make my mom watch the movie.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Outsiders from my daughter.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.