Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders is a story that is almost universally loved by generations of young teenagers. I hadn't read it since my own childhood--probably when I was in middle school in the 1980s. so I decided to read it again for a middle school book club. It is the story of three brothers who live in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1960s. Their parents have died and the oldest brother, who is only about 20 years old, is the guardian of his younger brothers. The main character is Pony Boy, only 14 and a quiet, sensitive boy who misses his parents and adores his brother, Soda Pop. In this town there are rich kids called "socs" who drive fancy cars and there are "greasers" who wear leather jackets and smoke cigarettes and get in fights with the socs. Because this story is told from the point of view of a member of the greasers, readers empathize with the greasers, who by and large aren't bad kids, just kids who happen to have less money and less access to power in their community. They get their power from their gang and from fighting with the socs, who like to come to their side of town and torment greasers. Pony Boy is almost strangled in a fight, and his friend Johnny stabs a soc in the process of saving Pony Boy's life. They know that their story won't be believed so they go into hiding in a deserted rural church. S.E. Hinton gives us fully fleshed out characters in Pony Boy, Johnny, and the other greasers. They all have their life stories, their disadvantages, and the traits that make them unique and worthwhile. They become real people to the readers, and for 50 years kids have empathized with their situation and how they are treated by the socs. When tragedy strikes the greasers (in several forms), kids feel their pain and recognize the injustice they face. They say that reading fiction can enhance emotional intelligence, and I believe this book has stood the test of time because of its ability to draw kids into an emotional connection with complicated characters.

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