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The Outsiders by SE Hinton - flawed genius?

721 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  The Hooded Claw
The Outsiders and Rumblefish are films which I really loved and which came at a rather an impressionable age for me – late teens and hungry for life and cultural experience. 

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to go and read the books, but I didn’t.  I suppose I’ve always been more likely to see a film based upon a book I’ve read than the other way around. 

The good news for me with this read is that the images I held from the film didn’t haunt my reading at all, the book doing all the work on that score.

The Outsiders is a great title.  It has roots in the way I felt when I saw the film and, strangely, the way I feel about myself now.

It’s the story of gangs polarised by economic and social divides told from the point of view of one of the poorer kids (ie Ponyboy the Greaser).

Ponyboy’s a great character.  He’s immersed in the culture of the gang and its codes, yet he’s open-minded enough to be able to rise above it and see the bigger picture.  As he eventually discovers, everyone has it tough in some way or another.

Through a logical progression of experiences, Ponyboy finds himself in the hands of the Socs (the rich gang), hands which force his head underwater at a fountain until his friend saves him by killing the aggressor.

Ponyboy and Johnny (the knifer) go on the run and there follows an exploration of their values and the vulnerability of their situation in life.

I won’t go any further regarding the plot.  All I’d like to say is that it opens up beautifully and even when it closes down it still leaves space for thought and reflection.

You’ll probably know that the author was only a teenager herself when she wrote the book.  Sometimes it shows through and I wonder if I made any allowances for that fact.  I think the book’s also written for a young audience of readers ready to explore the world and who want to suck up life’s experience – I also wonder if I made allowances on that score.

I think that, in the end, it’s such a great read that I did forgive it for any flaws or cracks in the way it’s written.  It does force me to ask a lot of questions about writing, too. 

There are passages in The Outsiders that I’d want to be editing or changing or taking out and there are rules broken here that I try to stick to in my own work.  And then again, who the hell am I to be suggesting changes to this modern classic?  The best thing to do with this book is too leave it exactly as it is.

SE Hinton has done something very right in this tale.  I was completely engrossed to the point of me stir-frying vegetables with one hand and holding the book in the other because I didn’t have it in me to stop reading when I should have.

I found myself fully engaged emotionally and loved the characters and the setting.  There’s often a tension as the story moves forward that means that getting to the next page or next chapter is essential. 

There are questions that are asked and left hanging, there’s style and cool, there’s the exploration of what it means to be part of friendship groups and of why teenage boys sometimes do the things they do (even more impressive in a sense that the author wasn’t one herself).

Above all, it’s the voice of the book that is utterly captivation. 
It’s consistent and full of wonder and bewilderment as a teenager’s might be. 

When I was half way through the book, I was so happy in my reading that I went to the computer and ordered a copy of Rumble Fish.  By the end, I’d placed an order for That Was Then, This Is Now.  I think that says a lot about the way I feel about the Outsiders, as it does that I can’t wait for those books to arrive through the post.

A fabulous read.
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I loved The Outsiders too, but hated the movie. I remember the score usedviolins and I commented to a friend who saw it with me that they should have used Elvis music. She never read the book and loved the soundtrack. it was quite a point of debate between us.

I went on to read all of S. E. Hinton's books and found them relevant to the American teen experience of the 1970s. Sooo much of the culture was based on what others thought of you, and that is what a lot of teens based their self-esteem on. Thank God for the awareness of bullying in today's culture, but it took a tragedy like Columbine to shock the country into awareness of how devastating the effects of that can be.

In her own way, S. E. Hinton pioneered the way for exposing bullies in her books. It is still an outstanding achievement for a teen to have garnered the kind of success she did. I believe the last time that happened was with an 18 year old girl named Mary Shelly who turned Frankenstein loose on an unsuspecting world...
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From your comments, I'm surprised you call it flawed, unless you mean the limitations imposed on the book by her teenage-level of experience.

I grew up in Tulsa, OK where I understand the book is set, and it was HEAVILY hyped to us by our school teachers when I was in junior high school. Oddly enough, I never read it, probably in reaction to that encouragement.  I have seen the movie, and the movie of another of her books, I believe Tex.  since they were shot in Tulsa, I was greatly amused to recognize the locations in the movie.  That's probably common for you New Yawkers and LALA landers, but pretty unusual here in the plains!
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