Wednesday, February 19, 2020

TBR Challenge: S.E. Hinton - The Outsiders

The Outsiders is about two weeks in the life of a 14-year-old boy. The novel tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his struggles with right and wrong in a society in which he believes that he is an outsider. According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for "social") has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he's always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers--until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy's skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

Comment: The February post for the TBR Challenge prompts readers to choose something related to the theme "friends".
Wendy, our host, has picked some more vague/broader themes this year, so that people could more easily fit any read in each month. Personally, I don't mind either way but the vagueness does make me doubt more what to choose whereas a more specific theme (like the ones before) more easily limit my options and I pick something more quickly too.

For this month, therefore, I chose this title because the only thing I knew about it - I avoided comments and reviews on purpose - was that it is considered a classic by some people and that it featured a group of friends and their POV on social and personal relationships with those in different social areas than theirs. Thus the fit into the label "friends", according to my thought process.
This is the story as told by protagonist Ponyboy, of two weeks in the lives of his group of friends and how they see their future and how they compare themselves with other groups.

I went into this story, which had been recommended to me in 2017 for some reason, only knowing it was about a group of young guys and that some readers would label it along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I loved but who doesn't?) and Catcher in the Rye (that I liked but wouldn't re-read).and I was expecting some kind of coming of age tale, perhaps larger tan life characters and a life lesson, all packed into what apparently isn't a big book.
My ebook edition has a note from the author, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the book's publication and that also helped give me an idea about the story.

I was not aware this book is (or was) used as part of mandatory school reading. I can now see why, since this has become a sort of classic now.
My edition also has some notes/letters from the actors who were in the movie (which I haven't seen) based on this book and that was a nice surprise, especially since some were quite young and now they are mostly familiar for other roles.

Anyway, so the book itself was pretty much what I'd come to expect: a group of friends who feels at the margins of a society that only helps those who have the means to do so and always punishes those from a poorer background. 
I could immediately see where things were going but I must say some scenes really felt like they were staged to create bigger impact, not everything felt to me as being the "natural" course of action or the more realistic way things would develop.

The descriptions from Ponyboy's POV are easy to grasp and to imagine but his thought process was innocent enough to allow me to try to put myself in his shoes. Several of the situations he is in make me feel sympathetic to his problems and his difficulty to explain why society is so discriminatory to those seen as being from the "wrong side of the tracks".
However, some dialogues felt like they didn't fit the kind of life those guys were living in. This was written in the 60s and a lot of the setting and description does ft that so I suppose the words used, the storytelling reflect the author's moment in time when writing.
But for me, in this contemporary date and with so many other similar books to compare this with or even other material (including non fiction articles, movies, real people's stories) just make the story cute, one addressing a necessary subject but... not as huge in the message conveyed as I imagined.

The idea is smart, the situations Ponyboy relates are still as valid and as urgent today as they were 50 years ago, society has not changed that much in such time but I was reading and still easily maintaining the emotional distance from that story.
The dramatic scenes/moments in the story didn't really touch me, I felt bad and felt sorry for some of the things and the characters' plights but I was not emotionally touched by what was happening.
I suppose that, from the author's POV, the idea was to make a point, to make people think about what was happening and not as much to dazzle people with her narrative style. Still, I can't avoid thinking like a reader and while the story is pertinent, it was not as engrossing as others in the genre were.

Perhaps this seems sacrilege for some readers and perhaps I'm not focusing on what matters but stories with coming of age tales can be difficult to enjoy if one removes the emotional content. I liked the fact those guys defended one another and they felt like they had to take action to not let others (the rich guys) get away with continuous humiliations and provocation. I think the lessons Ponyboy is supposed to learn are quite obvious but not easy if one thinks about real life struggles.

All in all, this tale of a strong friendship was special, it was good to read about and to think about the situations portrayed (the unfairness and the hopelessness of the consequences of poverty) and I understand why students, especially young ones, can gain a lot by reading this.
As a reader of fiction, though, it was not the amazing plot nor the amazing narrative I expected. I can't help thinking too about how easy it should have been for the guys to just ignore the rich guys and live their lives according to their own style anyway but, of course, it's never as simple to turn the other cheek if we are living in that moment.

It was good to finish the story but to summarize: this was more worth it for the context in which it was written, for the importance of the message but the execution failed to move me, in particular because the author didn't fully convince me those characters went beyond the practically static role they played.
Grade: 6/10


  1. I barely remember this one from my required reading when I was very young. I enjoyed it then, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be as impressive now. It was actually one of the few "cool" things we got to read, so I think that made more of an impression as well.

    1. Hello! Thank you for commenting :)

      Yes, the descriptions and the setting is rather dated and some of the writing felt a little unlikely for a (what was perceived as) gang to use...? But then again, this is my contemporary eyes seeing it.
      It was a book with a message and that is always important to read.