When I was a pre-teen girl we read the Baby Sitters Club, Flowers in the Attic or Judy Blume. These days young adults have a plethora of choices. Books so good, many adults read them. I have no issues with today’s choices, but when I came across a $1 copy of The Outsiders I thought I might get my 12-year-old to read it. Obviously it’s not as complex or fantastical as some of today’s top picks, but the story itself is timeless. The greasers against the Socs. The in crowd versus the outsiders. It may take place in 1965, the kids in the book face the same pressures and temptations as kids today.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, The Outsiders is about a group of greaser boys in 1965 Oklahoma. Ponyboy is a quiet, smart orphan being raised by his older brothers, Darrel and Sodapop. His brothers are drop outs, working to keep the family together. They may be rowdy greasers but they love and protect their family and their friends.
Ponyboy’s best friend Johnny isn’t wanted at home and is skittish from a recent fight with the Socs. One night Ponyboy and Johnny run into a group of drunken Socs who pick a fight, and in a moment of panic, Johnny stabs and kills one of the Socs. Ponyboy and Johnny leave town, hoping to avoid the police. They hide in an abandoned church and wait for word that they can return home safely. Their plans to avoid the police are interrupted when they rescue some school kids from a burning building and are both hospitalized, Johnny with life-threatening injuries. The murder isn’t prosecuted by the police but is settled with a rumble between the Socs and the greasers. Suffice it to say that some characters make it out, some don’t. But nearly everyone is forced to confront the prejudices that drive the events of the story.
I recently read Joanna Robinson’s Pajiba piece on banned books and was surprised to find this book is often banned because of the gang violence, drinking and smoking. While I don’t agree with book banning in any form, this entry seems particularly unreasonable and unfortunate. Ultimately The Outsiders is a timeless story about cliques and stereotypes and the pressures of trying to do right and fit in.
The writing isn’t particularly creative, but it was written and published when Hinton was just a high school student. Whether or not it was intentional, the occasionally awkward text and dialogue accurately reflects a teen’s point of view and way of speaking. It is sincere and earnest without pandering.
I know my 12-year-old could read a more creative book, something supernatural or dystopian with sorcerers or magical cats or precocious kids. But the message of this book is as good as any published today. And it’s done in fewer than 200 pages.