Today I’m going to be reviewing one of my all time favourite novels: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Written when Hinton was just sixteen years old, The Outsiders is a novel I read every year. A tale about the ongoing battle between the upper and lower classes, this novel is not one to be.
The story examines the long-standing feud between two gangs: The Greasers, who are the lower members of society; and The Socs or, The Socialites, the upper class members of society. The novel is told from the point of view of fourteen year old Greaser, Ponyboy Curtis, and yes, that is his real name. Ponyboy is in a gang with his two older brothers and their friends, being especially close friends with sixteen year old Johnny.
The novel follows Ponyboy and Johnny after a run-in with some Socs leaves one boy dead and the others running from the law. Scared to return home for fear that Ponyboy will be taken from his family and put in a group home and Johnny might end up in jail, the boys turn to their friend, and fellow gang member, Dallas Winston, in hopes that he can help them escape. The boys hop on a train and end up hiding in an abandoned church, living off a lot of bologna and cigarettes. But it’s not a happy ending, if it were the book would be rather short and probably a bit of a let down. From fires to gang rumbles to store robberies, there is never a settling moment for these boys.
Of course, even if the plot wasn’t as exciting as it is, the boys in this story would probably be enough to keep people reading. As I said before, the narrator of the story is Ponyboy Curtis. At fourteen years old, Ponyboy is the youngest member of the gang made up his family and friends. It is revealed in the story that Ponyboy’s parents have died, leaving him and his older brother, Sodapop, in the care of their oldest brother Darry. Sodapop and Darry are very different from each other. Sodapop is described in the book as basically being “happy-go-lucky”. After dropping out of high school to work full time, Sodapop still manages to make a joke out of everything, which usually helps keep things light in serious situations. Unlike Pony or Soda, Darry is much more serious. Being one of the oldest members of the gang and having to look after his two younger brothers has aged Darry much faster than normal. He is constantly worrying about his brothers and trying to keep them in line which tends to lead to a lot of conflict between him and Ponyboy. While much of the story does focus on the Curtis brothers, there wouldn’t be much of a story without the other members of the gang.
Sixteen year old Johnny is described to be a bit like a puppy. Coming from a rough home, Johnny has made his friends his family, being especially close to Ponyboy and Dally. When he gets into trouble he goes to Dally, knowing the older boy will be able to help him. One of the best parts of Hinton’s novel is that each of her characters bring something important to the story. Johnny is the solidifying member of the gang, keeping everyone together even when it seems tough. As a reader you can’t help but want to protect Johnny and I think this is really important in developing connections with the novel.
Steve is one of the characters you learn less about, though he is no less important than the others. As Sodapop’s best friend, Steve spends a lot of time at the Curtis house (though it does seem to be home base for most of the gang). Steve is described as being very tough and Ponyboy often thinks his brother’s friend doesn’t actually like him. Despite this, Steve still helps to defend Ponyboy from the Socs and is an important member of the gang.
Two-Bit Matthews is said to be the oldest member of the gang. Hinton states that his name is actually Keith, but that it’s been so long since he’s been called that that no one really remembers. Two-Bit is one of those characters you can’t help but like. A talented shop-lifter and constant wise-cracker means Two-Bit gets a lot of enjoyment out of stealing things he doesn’t really need. He still attends school just because he can and loves Mickey Mouse (if you’ve ever seen the film, you’ll probably remember Two-Bit sitting on the floor of the Curtis house one morning eating cake, drinking beer, and watching Mickey). Two-Bit is just one of the those character you can’t not like and this is one of the reasons I think he is probably one of my favourite characters.
Finally, there’s Dallas Winston, or Dally. It is said that he lived in New York for a while and got into some trouble there. Dally seems to be the most hot-headed of the group, looking for fights instead of fights finding him. The only one he seems to be willing to relax for is Johnny, as Johnny has such a rough home life and none of the boys want him to deal with it outside his home too. Dally is shown to be a highly important character when Johnny and Ponyboy go to him for help.
Each of these boys plays an important role, no matter how small, in the novel. Hinton characterized each of them brilliantly and made them stand out on the page. Her descriptions are so vibrant that you can practically see each boy in your mind as you read. She does this with everything, from the characters to the broken down church Pony and Johnny stay in for a while. Everything is told with such detail that it plays out right in front of you and you can’t help but keep reading to know what will happen next.
If you hadn’t already read this novel I highly recommend you walk to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy. I don’t know about all schools, but at mine it was mandatory reading for eighth grade. I had already read it before then, but I think it was probably the only required school reading my entire class enjoyed. So, go read the book and then go watch the film. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.
Have you read The Outsiders? What did you think? Which character is your favourite?