The Outsiders : An all-time favourite

I am not one of those who reads and rereads a book umpteen number of times. It was different when I was young – eight to be precise. I had a limited number of books, some of them unabridged classics, which I didn’t understand at all, but there were those I understood too. The song of Hiawatha was one such. It was adapted for children and I read it many times over, moved to tears every time. The Grimm’s fairy tales was also re-read because I had no choice, not because it was gripping.

Since then I have read hundreds of books but never had the urge to re-read any of them except the odd Bill Bryson travelogue or one of Marilyn French’s novels and… The Outsiders. I have lost count of the number of times I have read the last one, which is saying something given my record. And psst…I cry at the same places every single time!

I first read it when I got it from the B.C.Roy Children’s library in Delhi, and kept renewing it because it was not available in bookstores  in those days. The older one and I kept reading it alternately and sometimes simultaneously – waiting for one to put it down before the other picked it up! Till the younger one, then just 8-years-old, suggested that we got it photocopied so that we could return it back to the library and allow other kids to borrow it too!! He did all the work, got it photocopied, cut the pages and got it spiral bound. The copy is still around somewhere. Years later when the older one went abroad, he got me a brand new print of the book.

I don’t even want to start describing this book since I am sure to run out of adjectives extolling it before I finish the first para. It is a story of two sets of boys on the opposite sides of the social divide – the Greasers and the Socs (short for socials) and written by a young adult herself. The author S.E.Hinton was just 15 when she began writing it and 17 when it was published.  Susan Eloise Hinton became S.E.Hinton to hide the fact of her being a girl so that boys would also read her book.

To call it a classic would be an understatement. Written by a teenager it breaks all codes for books for young people. It is stark, portrays ugly truths about social inequality and has several violent scenes both direct and implied including a murder. There is death, not one but three of them and violent ones at that. It had been a controversial novel for this very reason when it first came out, but that has not prevented it from becoming an all-time hit with young people.

And yet there is tenderness  in the narration — in the relationship between the three brothers Darrel, Sodapop and Ponyboy Curtis. The last is the youngest of the trio and the narrator of the story. The gang comprising of the three Curtis brothers, Two-Bit Mathews, (so called because of his habit of butting in with his humorous two-bit’s worth) Dally Winston, Johnny Cade and Steve Randel is close, and acts as a surrogate family to Johnny Cade, the timid and shy abused son of uncaring parents.

Every character is etched in my memory, the description, the mannerisms and the dialogues. The images formed in my mind were given forms after I saw the movie.

The social conditions that separated the lower middle class Greasers and the well-to-do socs, forms the plot of the story. It has the mandatory friendships, fights – both organised ‘rumbles’ and violent ones – girls, buddies, the lot. But it is not just teen fiction talking about friendship and fights, but is a social commentary of the 60s America.

There is sensitivity in the description of the characters, insight in the narration of events, wisdom in the observations. Along the way Hinton also deals with the innermost feelings of the two groups and how things are ‘rough all over,’ stating that the fact of having less or more money does not change this vital fact. She also talks about parental abuse, neglect and what those can do to young people while talking about the good effects that love can achieve. As she has said, she wrote about what she saw happening around her, about those whom she interacted with in school. And amazingly for a teenager, she has managed to capture everything so succinctly.

For instance her description of  the difference between ‘tuff’ buddies hanging out in ‘gangs’ like that of Ponyboy and Co., and ‘hoods’ with their foot in crime as the Shepard brothers and Buck Merril. She blows the myth that the have-nots are not good students or sportsmen through the characters of Ponyboy and Darrel and also the fact that the socs are not all law-abiding model citizens.

Guess who the stars are? (Pic courtesy: www2.potsdam.edu)

The next best thing to reading this book is watching the movie. Unlike some books which become their watered down versions when made into a film, the movie The Outsiders has not only remained true to the book but at times feels even better. Little wonder – it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In fact I loved the movie so much so that I have watched it every single time it has been telecast in one or the other of the channels. Talk of ‘The Outsiders’ addiction!

The cast includes all the big stars of today who were teenagers or in their early 20s in the early 80s when the movie was released – Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Diane Lane among others.

I could quote every word and sentence from the book as being memorable, but since that would be copyright infringement, I restrict myself to just a few. Believe me, picking them out was not easy.

Randy to Ponyboy about his friend Bob trying to make his parents look at him:

They (his parents) gave in to him all the time…he wanted someone to tell him ‘No’. To have someone to lay down the law, to set the limits, give him something solid to stand on…If his old man had belted him – just once, he might still be alive.

Ponyboy to Cherry on the harsh realities of the social divide:

Do you think your spying for us makes up for the fact that you are sitting there in a Corvette, while my brother drops out of school to get a job?

An anguished Cherry to Ponyboy about her boyfriend Bob’s aggression:

Why do people sell liquor to boys? Why? I know there is a law against it, but kids get it anyway…

And my favourite one where Johnny tells Ponyboy about the need to retain one’s innocence:

Stay gold, Ponyboy….

And no, these are not the dialogues that make me bawl. Go find your own.

If you have not already read it, get a copy right away. As for me, I am going to begin reading the book for the ummm…… nth time.

And the day I am able to pen such a classic, I would consider myself a writer.

33 comments

  1. […] books in my collection, the other one being The Outsiders by S.E.Hinton, about which I had written here. The reason I love these two books is because of the values they impart – of family, sacrifice, […]

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  2. Haven’t read the book- nor seen the movie! I’ll have to order the book now. I expect I’ll like it as much as you do. 🙂

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    1. Oh I am sure you will, knowing that we share the same taste in movies 😀

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  3. […] Ultimately, the ones who are well grounded and also emotionally secure are the ones who are given age appropriate freedom and unconditional love. I am tempted to quote S.E.Hinton from The Outsiders here: They (his parents) gave in to him all the time…he wanted someone to tell him ‘No’. To have someone to lay down the law, to set the limits, give him something solid to stand on…If his old man had belted him – just once, he might still be alive. (Read my review of the book here) […]

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  4. Stay gold, Ponyboy…. thats stays! Thanks for the reco and as I had said i somehow got reminded of Salingers catcher in the rye. The other thing which i didnt realize was Hinton is / was a girl? I really thought the author was more like ponyboy! hats off to her – at no stage does it sound anything but ponyboy telling the story. Movie – thats next on my agenda!

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    1. 🙂 Hinton kept her name so because she was a teenager herself when she wrote it and didn’t want boys to know that she was a girl! She thought they would not read it if they knew her sex 🙂 Glad you liked it, Mayank!

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  5. […] S.E.Hinton: I have read and re-read her ‘The Outsiders’ so many times that I have lost count. Ponyboy, Soda, Darry, Two-bit Mathews, Johnny….the characters are all etched in my memory. I cry every time I read it and that is saying something! I did an entire post on this book sometime back here. […]

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  6. Preeti sharma · · Reply

    Hello Aunty,

    You won’t believe this, I finished the book !! Loved it, such a simple, beautiful, strong story!! I was lucky that it was available in the library. The night I got the book, I finished half of it. You won’t believe this, the next day when I went to work, at work I was scared thinking about the story, thinking I hope they are both ok.

    And while I was almost done, it struck me I havnt cried in the story, and I thought maybe I read it too fast. But then came johnny’s letter. That was when I cried! Thanks Aunty for the recommendation.

    You know I even saved the movie to watch until I finished the book, I will watch it today.

    Please recommend more book!

    Thanks,
    Preeti

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    1. That was so sweet, Preeti. You are more in control of your emotions than me! I cry at several places 🙂

      It is truly an amazing book and I can assure you, you will feel like picking it up again if you can lay your hands on it. I will mail you later, ok?

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  7. I haven’t read the book yet but certainly look forward for it as it is depicted in such a positive way by you.

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    1. You won’t be disappointed if you like children and are concerned about their problems.

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  8. Very interesting review. Its not my usual genre but I’ll definitely check it out.

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    1. Do check it out. i am sure you will find the book interesting too. 🙂

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      1. Definitely. 🙂

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  9. Preeti sharma · · Reply

    Hello Aunty,

    I am definitely going to get this book. I was never a reader growing up but have got into the habit in the last 6-7 years. My favorite books are by Somerset Maughm, and these days I’m on Roald Dahl. But I’m always looking for good recommendations.

    And you won’t believe that this movie was on my list to watch next, I was actually going to watch it this weekend but am thinking now should read the book first and then watch the movie, I think otherwise I will never be able to read the book after I have seen the movie.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

    – preeti

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    1. Hey Preeti, welcome here! How have you been?

      good for you to read it first and then see the movie. But this is one movie which is true to the book since the author herself has written the screenplay.

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  10. You really seem to love the book… And its kind of infectious too.. Started looking for a copy right away!

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    1. Nice having you here Arti. Oh yes, I love that book to bits. I am sure you will like it too. 🙂

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  11. Interesting book especially a heavy metal stuff to come from a teens. Being a lazy reader these days, will catch up with the movie 🙂

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    1. Do watch the movie. If you want I will mail you the next time it is telecast 😀

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  12. Hmmm a book review; You sure are covering all your bases :p
    i think that you do not fall in love with just a book,you fall in love with the genre.For instance, I like books in which people are stranded in some inaccessible places and build up their lives from what is available,a fine example Robinson Crusoe and Tom Hank’s movie “Cast away”.

    Hey thanks to let me know about the comment problems in my blog,i have taken care of them.

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    1. That was not just a book review. I am not good at those. It has been such a wonderful book that I wanted to share the joy I feel every time I read it. I like reading about such stuff too. It gives one a sense of accomplishment to see someone survive against all odds, doesn’t it?

      Thanks for fixing the comment problem.

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  13. Omg! me too is hopelessly in love with Brysons comic genius and Marilyn French’s Womens Room was on my bedside table for AGES.I am a re-reader-keep reading old favourites at random.
    Will definitely get the Outsiders but.

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    1. You too? Wow! French sure could keep one’s mind riveted on her works, couldn’t she? I have read Bryson’s Lost Continent so many times and never fail to crack up.

      You will love Outsiders, I assure you.

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  14. Oops typo…curl-up with.

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  15. We all have our set of favourites don’t we…the ones that we like to curl with.

    Even though I consider myself a voracious reader, I’ve yet to read “The Outsiders”

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    1. Any particular reason you have not read it? Which is your favourite book you like to ‘curl up with?’ These days I read only books for young adults. Know of any good ones?

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  16. hehehehe.. i didn’t read the post… sorry i don’t read book reviews, amma…

    wats d plan.. u didnt write to me after that

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    1. So sweet of you to comment even if you don’t read book reviews 🙂 I’m sorry, will mail you.

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  17. Now I know what my next read will be 🙂

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  18. on my way to get the book and looking forward to your book sooon too!
    cheers!

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    1. Good for you. Do let me know how you liked it. Btw, what I meant was that I hope to write a novel that good. I have already published a book for children but a non-fiction work.

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