Book Title: The Outsiders
Authors: S.E. Hinton
Target Audience: YA
Genres: Fiction, Literature
Page Count: 224
Format: Trade Paperback
Reading time: 3 hours
Date Finished: 3/01/17
Click here to find it on Amazon (New window)
In a word: Enjoyable.
My full impressions: I never had to read The Outsiders in high school, nor have I ever watched the 1983 film that was based upon the book (and launched the careers of many now-famous film stars). Thus, it was a perfect book to pick up for my challenge, and I’m glad I did, because it’s every bit as good as I’d heard.
The story takes place in 1965 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it’s immediately notable for its uniquely-named characters (Ponyboy is the main character, and he has a brother named Sodapop and friends named Darry, Dally and Two-Bit) and its established conflict between the “Greasers” and the “Socs” (short for “social”, the wealthy kids from the other side of town). This isn’t something cheesy like the musical Grease; it’s set in the real world, it makes references to things that are distinctly part of the Oklahoma culture (like rodeos) and it involves characters who have difficult home lives and who are struggling to understand the social classes in the world in which they live.
At the heart of the story is Ponyboy’s friendship with Johnny, a boy from a home with alcoholic, abusive parents who don’t love him. Johnny is a seemingly good person, but when he kills one of the Soc boys during an ambush, he becomes a fugitive and a marked man. He and Ponyboy escape the law only to find themselves in a position where they have to save some children from a burning church. Johnny emerges a hero, but he’s also fatally wounded, and how he’s remembered by society does not reflect the complex person he really was.
Another character who’s very important is the beautiful Cherry Valance, a teenage Soc who is a popular cheerleader, but who strikes up a friendship with Ponyboy and discusses class with him. Cherry is smart and strong, but she’s also aware of her attraction to strongmen and her irritation with a world that promotes violence and hatred. She and Ponyboy never become more than friends on opposite sides of the culture, but their conversations are key to understanding their world.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was learning that this book – which is certainly good literature and well-deserving of its reputation – was written by S.E. Hinton when she was 15-16 and still in high school herself. While the writing lacks flowery embellishments and feels almost journalistic in its realism, the story and the characters are so well-constructed, and so believable, that it feels like you’re peering into the life of a group of people who actually lived. Given that we’re 50 years removed from the culture of the 1960s and that this is so strongly focused on one time and place, it also works as a novel that provides a look at a particularly way of life from a time gone by.
While I’m sure there are flaws and problems I didn’t notice that are worthy of criticism, I have to admit I don’t care if they’re present; I found the book to be quite enjoyable, and I’d recommend it to anyone without qualification. From me, that’s high praise indeed!