(Banned) Book Talk: *The Outsiders*, by S.E. Hinton

THE OUTSIDERS, by S.E. Hinton (Amazon.com via LibraryThing)

S.E. Hinton
Speak (1997), Mass Market Paperback (ISBN 0881030392 / 9780881030396)
Fiction (YA), 192 pages
Source: personal copy
Reason for reading: re-read for Banned Books Week 2012

Opening lines: “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

Book description (via Scholastic Teacher Resources): In Ponyboy’s world there are two types of people. There are the Socs, the rich society kids who get away with anything. Then there are the greasers, like Ponyboy, who aren’t so lucky. Ponyboy has a few things he can count on: his older brothers, his friends, and trouble with the Socs, whose idea of a good time is beating up greasers. At least he knows what to expect — until the night things go too far. 

A landmark work of American fiction first published in 1967, S. E. Hinton’s novel was an immediate phenomenon. Today, The Outsiders continues to resonate with its powerful portrait of the bonds and boundaries of friendship.

Comments: I decided a couple of months ago, because of Rob Lowe, that I would read The Outsiders during Banned Books Week this year. I’ve never seen the movie (in which he played Sodapop Curtis, one of protagonist/narrator Ponyboy’s two older brothers), but it makes up such a significant part of his autobiography that it wasn’t hard for me to picture the actors in it as the novel’s characters. The book was a re-read for me, though–for the first time in decades. One of the things I appreciate about Banned Books Week is that it gives me an excuse to revisit old, long-neglected book friends. That said, I can’t say I appreciate that some of those old book friends are perennially challenged…but at least they haven’t faded away.

I’ve always marveled at the fact that Susan Hinton was still in high school herself when she wrote this–and I still think that’s pretty impressive. In fact, I don’t think I realized in my earlier, younger readings just how accomplished the writing in this novel is. That said, in reading it again several decades away from high school, I find that the plot feels more like something conceived by an adolescent. I was actually surprised by how much of it I’d forgotten, and how much of it is high melodrama.

What I did remember about The Outsiders -the characters and the emotions–still holds up, and remains surprisingly relevant despite time-specific details like “semi-Beatle haircuts” and hair oil and “rumbles.” I can see the reasons the novel continues to be controversial–among them, it’s deeply violent and lacking in effective parental figures. But I also see its virtues, and one of its greatest is a strong moral center. Between the lines, Hinton’s characters are complex, and the relationships she depicts among the Curtis brothers and their gang–goofy names and all–are grounded in genuine feeling.

The Outsiders was one of the earliest significant young-adult novels, and forty-five years after its original publication, I think it’s still significant–and only partly because of it controversial nature. But if the controversy it provokes helps keep it significant–and therefore keep it in the hands of readers–it’s worth taking on the challengers.

Rating: 3.75 of 5
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