The Outsiders

Author: S.E. Hinton

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 1967

I read it: June 2016 (re-read)

the outsiders

“Soda’s enough, and I’d have him until I got out of school. I don’t care about Darry. But I was still lying and I knew it. I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.”

Ponyboy’s story is one long attempt to understand his brothers and how he relates to them. With their parents dead, Darry is the oldest and fears for the safety of his two younger brothers, as well as the peripheral members of the Greaser crowd. The emotional core of the book is the tight connection between these young men, including of course the tragic Johnny Cade. The swift authenticity of the dialogue houses growing-up-too-fast insights, such as the conversations between Pony and Sherry Valance, one of the Socs:

“Did you ever hear of having more than you wanted? So that you couldn’t want anything else and then started looking for something else to want? It seems like we’re always searching for something to satisfy us, and never finding it. Maybe if we could lose our cool we could.”

“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.”

It’s the time of drive-ins, dime novels, and switchblade knives, apparently taking place in Tulsa, Okalahoma, though this is never stated in the novel. The clarity of the era and genuine feel of its characters make it an item of Americana, as surely a classic as To Kill A Mockingbird. And like that book, it has an economy of plot to make any writer jealous. It also has the neat trick of being a long essay written by Ponyboy himself, to the point where the last line of the book is the same as the first.

Everything about this book is basically perfect, but we are also obligated to point out the activities of the author herself. Hinton started this book as a teenager, and it was published when she was eighteen. IT WAS PUBLISHED WHEN SHE WAS EIGHTEEN. Let’s all bow down in a moment of reverence to this successor of Mary Shelley’s claim. The Outsiders is a book that touches transcendence both on its own merits and through the realities of how it came to be.

Movie corner: A fun one to revisit, the movie is as brisk and sweet and sad as the book. It focuses more on the triangle of Pony, Johnny, and Dally (Matt Dillon) than on the complex relationship between Pony and his brothers. In fact, Sodapop (Rob Lowe) shows up for pretty much only one scene, as does the Tom Cruise pal. The main reason to watch is to tally these young stars along with Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane.

Music corner: There’s an old Get Up Kids song called “Stay Gold, Ponyboy” which is probably enjoyable only to those who have nostalgia for it. Then there’s the much newer and better First Aid Kit song “Stay Gold” from the album of that name (curiously, one of several albums with “gold” in the title that all came out within a year). I’m sure there are plenty of other references in songs I haven’t heard.

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One thought on “The Outsiders

  1. I really enjoyed reading your review, Levi!

    You’re definitely right about the economy of plot.

    When I first read the book, I wasn’t aware of Hinton’s age when she wrote it. I found out about a month later and was just absolutely stunned. It really didn’t read like a debut novel to me at all, let alone a novel written by someone just out of high school.

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