The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
May 5, 2020
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
Ponyboy Curtis. Does that name ring a bell? If not, let me fill you in. Ponyboy is the 14-year-old narrator of the coming of age classic, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. Hinton started writing this book when she was just a teenager. Her controversial book was published in 1967 when she was 18 years old. Through the decades, The Outsiders has been banned from various school districts and libraries for its portrayal of gangs, violence, underage drinking and smoking, and dysfunctional families. According to the American Library Association, The Outsiders is ranked #43 on the top 100 books challenged between 1990-2000. I first read this book in middle school and again most recently. I really liked it the first time around, but it was my second read through that absolutely sealed the deal. The Outsiders does not disappoint. It has truly stood the test of time.
I’ll break down the basics for you to either jog your memory (for those who have read it way back when) or intrigue you for any newbies. Hinton’s story takes place in 1965, Oklahoma. Ponyboy Curtis lives with his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darry. When their parents are both killed in a car crash, the brothers are allowed to stay together under Darry’s care as long as they pose no trouble. The three brothers, along with a crew of others, are called “greasers”. They are basically low income kids who live on the wrong side of the track. The kids who live on the “other” side of the track are called the socials, or socs for short. You know, “the rich kids”. These two “gangs” were always ready to rumble.
Hinton sets the tone of her book from the start. The characters are introduced, the town is clearly divided and her protagonist easily identified. The story centers around the night Ponyboy and his good friend Johnny are jumped by a couple of the socs. In the middle of their altercation, Johnny accidently kills one of the other boys in order to protect his friend. From there, the story delivers an emotional punch.
In my opinion, S.E. Hinton’s, The Outsiders, is brilliant. Weighing in at only 180 pages, this short novel is chock full of survival and the quest for all things good. Readers will be immersed in a world where family is who you surround yourself with and where you call “home” Right vs. wrong is often defined by the times. It is not always black or white, the gray creeps in begging to be questioned. Loyalty is what keeps you grounded, until it doesn’t. Let me tell you this… The Outsiders has everything. It is the hardness of Hinton’s characters and their lewd behaviors that allow readers to see the difference between right and wrong. It’s the depths of her characters’ emotions that break through their exterior facades that make them truly human and not just one gang vs. another. The controversy of this book gave me a deeper look into the souls of a bunch of lost teenagers, longing to be found.
Hinton gives her readers an inside look into the mind of a 14 year old boy. Ponyboy’s intimate feelings are revealed as he questions the only world he knows. His relationship with Johnny intensifies after their horrible night. The depth of their friendship left a permanent mark on my heart. There will never be a time when I look at my weathered copy of Gone With The Wind, and not think of Ponyboy and Johnny. The cigarettes they smoked and conversations they had, late into the night about a story from another time and another place…..that is the heart of it all. Hinton challenged me to think, why does it have to be just greasers and socs? What happens to all who fall between? How far can one push the wrong in order to feel the right?
Plan to fall in love with Ponyboy. His innocence and curiosity of the outside world will warm your insides. His goodness is raw and beautiful. His love for his family and his friends is uncompromising. His desire to do right in a world that has presented itself so much differently than he chooses to believe, is what will make him into a man I would love to meet one day. I can say this to you today…..I loved this book and hope and pray my boys find something to embrace and cherish from this golden story. Friendship, brotherly love and morality in a confusing world is what I left this story with. Be the change for a better tomorrow.
If you have never read this classic…hop to it. If it has been decades since your first read of it…..it time to revisit. I am not typically a re-reader, but I can attest….the second time around was fantastic. I can promise you this…..I WILL read this again. The third time’s a charm! Stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold!
I wish you all love, good health and a promise of a fabulous tomorrow!
Your Biggest Fan,
P.S. Frances Ford Coppola directed the movie adaptation of The Outsiders in 1983. The cast includes some of my favorites…Matt Dillon (hunk of love), Rob Lowe (yes please), C. Thomas Howell (remember Red Dawn), Ralph Macchio (swoon), Tom Cruise (double swoon), Patrick Swayze (gahhhhh), Emilio Estevez (ooh la la), and Diane Lane (Love her). S.E.Hinton had a cameo appearance in the film playing a nurse! How fun is that?
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