The Outsiders is a seminal YA novel, indeed its publication in 1967 is credited with creating realistic YA as a genre.
S.E. Hinton was only 15 years old when she wrote a 40 page short story that would evolve into The Outsiders. She rewrote her story when she was 16, it was accepted for publication when she was 17, and published when she was just 18 years old. It has now sold more than 15 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. S.E. Hinton grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and this is where The Outsiders is set.
Somehow I didn't really know that much about The Outsiders before I read it this month. The Outsiders tells a tale of two rival groups of teenage boys, The Greasers and The Socs (Socials). The Greasers are poor and are named for their fondness for hair oil, while The Socs are kids from the richer families in town. The story is a first person tale told by Ponyboy Curtis, and yes that's his real name. Sadly S.E. Hinton can't remember why she gave her characters names like Ponyboy, Sodapop and Two-Bit, but she has said that she's glad that she did as they are much more memorable than the common 1960s boy names. Although the Socs do have more traditional names like Bob and David.
We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we're wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks, and get editorials in the paper for being a public disgrace one day and an asset to society the next. Greasers are almost like hoods: we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while.A lot is made of the different temperament of the two groups too.
'That's why we're separated,' I said. 'It's not money, it's feeling-you don't feel anything and we feel too violently.'So all the Socs are supposed to be sociopaths? But everyone can recognise and relate to teenage tribes and cliques. We all experienced them at high school.
Ponyboy is fourteen and lives with his two older brothers as their parents have been killed in a car accident eight months earlier. His brothers Darry and Sodapop work, while Ponyboy is still a school. Darry is strict with Ponyboy and keeps a watchful eye on him. Ponyboy doesn't appreciate his strict rules and misinterprets his methods.
The book gets off to a bit of a slow start but things really pick up 45 pages in when there is a rather sudden, dramatic event. The rest of the book is really the fall out from this one night. While I did enjoy the story arc of the book, I found Ponyboy's voice contradictory and inconsistent. He does well at school, is reading Great Expectations and relating to Pip, and "nobody in our gang digs books and movies the way I do" (it was the sixties after all), and yet he can't spell Socs. "I'm not sure how you spell it, but it's the abbreviation for the Socials". I wondered at the beginning if it would take me a while to settle into Ponyboy's voice - but I never was able to settle in and enjoy it.
I'm very glad to have read The Outsiders given its fame and influence. I just wish that I had liked it more.