Genre: Challenged Books
I’m constantly ashamed at the number of books that other people consider classics and must-reads that I have never read (and sometimes, even heard of). Enter: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. When it donned a list of potential choices for a discussion group, I knew fate had come around to get me. After reading a short synopsis and figuring the plot sounded enough like West Side Story that I wouldn’t hate it, I gave it a shot.
So it was terribly serendipitous when a few nights later I was texting with an old college roommate whom I can only ever catch in conversation when there’s a full moon. We’re usually in this awful phone-tag game that ranks up there in annoyance with Facebook poking (seriously, what was Zuckerberg thinking?). We were discussing recent music finds, and eventually fell on books; natural territory for an LIS student and a high school English teacher. She raved, and my nerves about the book were soothed.
I still had some reserves while reading: the character names, though I understand why, continually irked me, probably because everyone seemed to have an unexplained nickname, and it took a bit longer than I wanted for the first serious point of action to happen. However, at the first sight of danger, I was hooked and along for the ride with Ponyboy and Johnny.
The story follows the main character, Ponyboy, an orphan living in New York City with his brothers after his parents die, who is a low-class/low-income “greaser” in opposition to the wealthier “Soc” group. The groups (gangs) are in constant warfare, until one day when Ponyboy’s friend Johnny ends up killing a Soc. Ponyboy and Johnny leave town in an attempt to avoid the impending consequences. The boys learn to rely on one another in the worst of times, and what it really means to be a part of a family, biological or not.
The story fed into all my fears of life in the inner city, struggling to stay alive, out of trouble, and with your family despite what others feel is better for you. It was definitely the kind of book that should grace all library shelves where boys, particularly boys with troubling home lives may access it. It’s the kind of story that offers representation to a population that I think many published authors either don’t have knowledge of/experience with, or want to focus on as a topic.
According to the ALA, The Outsiders is a frequently challenged book. I expect that this book is likely challenged by parents whose students are in more middle to upper-class communities where the events that transpire, including the use of drugs, may be seen as “bad influences” versus a very pertinent part of reality. This is precisely why these titles need to be accessible for youth; because it alerts them to realities that differ from their own. It opens a window of opportunity for parents to have discussions with their youth; which should be embraced rather than avoided!
Book Discussion reflection:
I always enjoy hearing what other people pick up in books that I miss; because it’s usually a lot. One group member in the discussion of this book pointed out the fact that Ponyboy dwelled a great deal on people’s eyes and eye colors in the book; something that I hadn’t paid any attention to in my reading. However, considering that they made this movie into a book, I wonder if this symbol was considered and projected in the film. Considering that the film was released in the early 1980s, it would have been more difficult than today with the visual effects and editing that can be done so easily. This is the kind of thing that gives readers ammunition towards supporting books over their movie adaptations, and one of the reasons it can be so difficult to transcribe all of the nuances of the written word into a cinematic event.
Hinton, S. (1967). The outsiders. New York, NY: Puffin.