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The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

13 Mar

2006 Edition, Penguin Group, ISBN 978-0-14-240733-X

Plot Summary: The Outsiders takes place in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma, and tells the story of rich kids (Socs) vs. poor kids (Greasers), as seen through the eyes of a 14-year old Greaser, Ponyboy Curtis.

The Greasers are from working-class families. They’re the kids who grease their hair and work at gas stations. The Socs – short for “Socials” – are the preppy kids from white collar families. There has been an increasing unease between the two groups, with kids from both sides being jumped.

Ponyboy, an orphan living with his two older brothers, Darryl and Sodapop; is a dreamer, and his friend Johnny, a 16-year old greaser who has never fully recovered from a savage beating at the hands of the Socs, are attacked by a group of Socs one night, culminating in a murder that sends Johnny and Ponyboy on the run. While in hiding, Ponyboy and Johnny examine their lives and wonder what makes people so different after all.

Critical Evaluation: The Outsiders is a classic, often considered the first YA novel. Written when the author was only 16 years old, she wrote about what she saw lived – Greasers vs. Socs and the divide between haves and have-nots. The voice is an authentic teen’s, which is why it still resonates after 45 years. It is not dated, because the heart of the story is conflict between teens, family, and money-related problems – still very relevant issues today.

Reviews: Chicago Tribune: “Taut with tension, filled with drama.”

Awards: New York Herald Tribune Best Teenage Books List (1967), Chicago Tribune Book World Spring Book Festival Honor Book (1967), Media and Methods Maxi Award (1975), ALA Best Young Adult Books (1975), Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (1979)

Reader’s Annotation: Fourteen year-old Ponyboy Curtis learns that life is never as simple as black and white when he and his friend go on the run for murder.

Author Information: Author S.E. Hinton writes realistic novels for teens. Her website offers information about her books, movies made from her books, and a biography. 

Genre: Realistic fiction. Subgenres: families, gangs, friendship

Booktalking Ideas: Ponyboy is a 14-year old orphan living with his two older brothers. He feels like nothing he does is good enough in his 20 year-old brother Darryl’s eyes; what he doesn’t understand is that Darryl only wants the best for him, for him to have an easier life than he does. Does Ponyboy understand the pressures on Darryl to keep their family together? Do you think your own parents feel the same way Darryl does sometimes?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12-16.

Challenge Issues/Defense: Gang violence, smoking and drinking. Defense: This is a realistic piece of fiction about teen gangs. This is not dramatized violence, nor is it glorified – it is quite the opposite. The book illustrates that violence begets violence. As for the smoking and drinking, it is a realistic depiction of what the author saw around her growing up. It is not glorified, it is presented as fact.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

The Outsiders was my favorite book as a teenager. The opportunity to re-read it was welcome, and in reading it as a 41-year old and a mother of a soon-to-be teenager, what I took from it this time is that times may change, but core issues stay the same. Teenagers are teenagers; families are families; the gadgets and the language may change, but key conflicts and feelings remain the same.

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