Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review: The Outsiders

Title: The Outsiders
Author: S. E. Hinton
Release Date: 1967
Genre: young adult, friendship, family, gangs, drama, crime, death
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: young adult fiction
Age Group: 16+, 18+ (depends on maturity and past exposure)

Summary: Ponyboy Curtis and his older brothers Darry and Soda are Greasers. They have long hair, are tough, and live in the hood. They belong to what they refer to as a gang, though really it's more of a band of brothers. They run with shoplifters, school drop-outs, players, and abused friends of various ages. Unfortunately, in addition to whatever life throws at them, the Greasers are in constant battle with the Socials.
The Socials are rich and have it all. And for some reason, they like to harass the Greasers. So the Greasers fight back with all they have.
The war as been going on for as long as anyone can remember. But a night at the movies changes everything. Suddenly Ponyboy (14) and his buddy Johnny Cade (16) are thrown into a mess that is far bigger than the two know how to deal with. Will everyone make it out alive? Can they hold the gang, and the family, together?

Word of Warning
  • Various forms of crime. Shoplifting, stealing cars, mugging, and even murder.
  • The author does a great job of writing about tough kids and their lives without becoming too graphic or inappropriate. We know, for instance, that Dally and Two-Bit are probably doing things with girls that they shouldn't be, but we are never given the details. The boys probably all swear like sailors, but the language in the book itself is very mild to non-existant.
  • Death. Destroyed families. Near-death experiences.
  • The law is looked at as a villain, and law enforcement avoided at all costs.
  • Three very disturbing deaths.
  • A character becomes delirious. Later, someone under extreme distress construes events in a way that shifts the blame and ignores a reality that this character finds too hard to face.
  • Family struggles involving fighting, shouting, and resistance to authority.
  • One character's parents abuse him physically and verbally. We never see this, but we hear a few stories about it.
  • Drinking (presumably under-age)
  • Cigarettes are smoked by all ages constantly
  • Someone mentions considering suicide. Later, someone does (essentially) commit suicide.
  • Other, more minor issues also exist in the book.

My Thoughts
Honestly, rereading the summary and list of warnings, this book doesn't sound very appealing at all. I didn't expect to like it. And yet I gave it four stars, and I'm ready to reread it. And I have to ask myself: why is that?
The story is honest/open, moves at an ambling pace, well-narrated, addresses major struggles of many different ages (and shows many different aged-characters dealing with these struggles). The author writes with an honesty that is refreshing and heartbreaking. Difficult topics are very well handled. I honestly think that was my favorite aspect. It took on concepts I myself was barely ready to conquer, and showed the unfortunate truth that kids have to deal with these sometimes, and what happens when these kids are stuck between a wall and the horrors of reality.
The book's honesty, combined with the author's tact and grace, make this a valuable read, one that I'd highly recommend.


grandma jane said...

I'm just curious as to why you chose this particular book to read since you seemed to ask yourself the same question? Thinking your students are much younger?
Anyway, for some reason I remembered this as a movie...barely :-D

Maria Gianna said...

Good question! It was a class of 7th graders that read it. I think you really have to know the class if you're going to teach it to younger students. Anyway, I read it with them.
It is/was a movie. I watched it and am going to tackle reviewing it at some point. The movie made me really appreciate Hinton's skill, to be honest. I mean, the movie was good too, but I suddenly realized that movies have to show constantly, whereas sometimes Hinton took the telling route. We continually tell students "show, don't tell" but I think there is a place for both. Hinton demonstrated this beautifully with how she dealt with the tough subjects. She showed how awful they were without necessarily having to show it and make the reader incredibly uncomfortable. Instead of discomfort, we processed the horror instead. It's hard to explain. Suffice it to say I appreciate both pieces of literature around the story.