If you read one book this week, make it S.E.Hinton’s, The Outsiders.
American author, Susan Eloise Hinton; you’re wondering where you might know her from; well, if you’re in the UK, there’s a chance you won’t have. But, christ, you should have. For some reason, the state’s required reading of this author has not crossed the Atlantic. Yet. But, a couple pages into any of her works will quickly have you asking the same question: why did I not read these stories as a kid?
Awarded the Margaret Edwards Award, for her “specific body of work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature,” on the page Hinton is up there with the greats you know, and arguably should be required reading along with classic literature that transcends age and culture, upbringing, race and wealth with stories that ring true to all, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, on the GCSE syllabus.
Why say that? I’ll make the comparisons because it’s difficult not to: our heroes Harper Lee and J.D.Salinger. Begin with The Outsiders.
Narrated in a similar voice as Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye fame, The Outsiders tells the tale of the young street wars between Greasers and Socs, told through the innocence and thoughtfulness of protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis. You’ve been told to Stay Gold before, right? This is where that’s from. Also, the namesake of Swedish Folk singers, First Aid Kit’s last album. Looked after by his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darrel, we follow schoolboy, Ponyboy, as he contemplates the world of street fights, a world without parents, and a coming of age, all of which reminding him -and us -that we’re not all that different. There are a myriad of other themes to be taken from The Outsiders, all expressed through the simple “tuff” outlook of teenage Ponyboy, who’s seen as different for his love of books and films.
Been greasing back my hair and wearing a jacket like Dally’s ever since.
From Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hinton’s The Outsiders is apparently based on the true story of two rival gangs from her high school. Hinton used this as inspiration for a short story, which her classmates encouraged her to expand. This in itself is the essence of great literature: at the very least offering you an insight into these kids’ world of knife fights and hopelessness in the 1960s. How else would you know? As is also clear in Rumble Fish, Hinton’s greatest trait is her empathy as a writer. In the Outsiders, her sympathy for the underdog, poorer victims of beatings by the Socs, the Greasers symbolise the feeling of being young with the world against you, in a way that’s relatable to everyone regardless of the walk of life they’re from.
Made into a film, starring everyone from Patrick Swayze to Tom Waits to a pre-tooth-fixed Tom Cruise, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it is a wonder more people aren’t familiar with the great author. Need more? Think Lord of the Flies with knife fights with street kids.