Book Review: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
I was definitely a child who enjoyed the assigned reading in school. Really, no matter the genre, I was excited to see what the teacher would choose next. The first time I really remember being assigned a serious class reading was in 8th grade. For our Enrichment class, the teacher chose to read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I remember liking the novel then, but hadn't read it since and decided this week to give it a reread. And boy, am I glad I did.
The Outsiders tells the story of Ponyboy, his two brothers and their gang of friends, known as "greasers," as they struggle with everyday living. They are the social outcasts, seen as poor, filthy and rough. Their main antagonists are the Socs, the more affluent kids of the town who torment the Greasers at every turn (don't worry, though, the Greasers are more than capable of handling themselves). When something terrible happens, Ponyboy and his best friend, Johnny, are forced to go on the run and learn the hard lessons of life and adolescence. Along the way, a good deed pushes away some of the hard and unlikable exterior and the people around them start to see them in a different light. Ponyboy is also forced to grow up quickly and learn how to deal with familial and friendly dynamics. In the end, Ponyboy's journey to the almost-man he becomes is incredible, showing that you don't always have to remain the person society has pigeon-holed you into becoming.
It is astounding to know that Hinton wrote this novel when she was just a teenager herself. It is a great example of a young adult novel, yes, but it does not read like today's young adult books. Rather, the author's voice is more grown up, has more depth and the language is slightly more sophisticated. She develops these characters so well that they leap off the page. I can clearly see each of the characters and chart their journeys through the story. Johnny, in particular, is such a heartbreaking character. Unloved by his family and terrified of the world around him, he is just trying to survive from day to day, relying on Ponyboy to help guide and protect him. In the end, however, his character is also one of the most transformed. His journey is incredible and sad, yet his words to Ponyboy resonate throughout the lives of all the characters. Ponyboy is a great protagonist; hes easily likable and his relationships with all of the characters is great to follow- from his love-hate feelings towards his brother Darryl to his fear of Dallas to his adoration of Sodapop. Hinton creates dynamic characters who all receive a moment to shine, no matter how big or small, and each character changes as the story progresses, something that authors tend to forget.
Hinton's social commentary is also an important part of the story. She tackles the issue of social inequality and judgment head on, not shying away from the ugly side of it. Seeing how these two groups treat each other, how they interact with one another, and the consequences of their inability to come together and understand one another is truly amazing to see. She doesn't make any grand new discoveries about social inequality or propose any solutions; rather, what she is saying is that there will always be inequality, and it's how each individual person sees and deals with this inequality that matters. For Ponyboy, he learns that life is unfair yet there is always hope that you can escape, can become something else.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a quick, easy read that I believe anyone can enjoy. It has made its way into my favorite books of all time list, and I would recommend this as a read (or reread) to any and all readers. It will teach us all that we need to "stay gold."