A book review that sounds like I actually tried.
Selection: The Outsiders
By S.E. Hinton
Ponyboy is a Greaser. He doesn’t have a lot of money, and his life at home has been rough since his parents were killed in a car wreck, leaving his brother, Darry, to raise him and his other brother, Sodapop. Pony does his best not to let crummy circumstances keep him from being a decent person. He’s the youngest in his circle of friends, and the only one who’s stayed in school and tried to get good grades.
But being a Greaser is dangerous, and Ponyboy’s chance meeting with Cherry Valance, the only Soc girl who’s ever treated him like he was even human, sets in motion a wave of violence that may cost him the only things he has left in the world: his brothers and their gang.
Like a lot of the books I enjoyed when I was in grade school, I found I didn’t really enjoy it as much on this last reading. But that’s not to say it wasn’t still a decent book.
Ponyboy is a very conversational narrator, telling the story as it happens, but sprinkling it with all the flashbacks and side stories you’d expect someone to tell you if you were hearing someone tell you all of it, rather than just reading it.
I am a little conflicted in how I feel about how the gangs are portrayed in this book…I’ve read some nonfiction about gangs, and it was loads worse than what we see and what Ponyboy tells us about in The Outsiders, but I’ve heard that this book is still challenged a lot because of the gang violence in it. And the violence is there…it’s just not nearly as bad as some of the other books I own, but then I have to take a step back and remind myself that this is a book for a younger audience—I read it in junior high—and that makes it a little harder to determine if the level of violence is bad or not.
The best conclusion I could come to is that the violence itself wasn’t terribly graphic, but the way Ponyboy talks about it is a little worrisome…like it’s normal. Although I know I didn’t think about that when I was in junior high, reading about these Greasers and Socs beating the crap out of each other.
If that was the aim of this book was to glamourize gangs, I think Ponyboy is not the narrator to do it, since he’s probably the least Greaser-like of his gang. But that’s just me.
Violence aside, the book has a lot of good themes of camaraderie and making an effort to find common ground with people who are different from yourself…it’s very touching at some points, and I think that sort of thing in a book outweighs violence.
There’s not a whole lot else to be concerned about in the book, either. Hinton doesn’t use very extreme language, although Ponyboy tells us a lot that his brothers or the other Greasers or whoever are swearing. There’s some alcohol, but there’s a lot more smoking, and almost every character at some point or another acknowledges that smoking is a bad habit…so I guess that could be considered questionable…but really, I have serious doubts about young adults picking up a cigarette because they read it in a book. Serious doubts.
And that about sums it up for me and The Outsiders…book has some violent and questionable aspects, but I’d say its sentiments make up for that. Which seems to be the point Hinton was trying to make about Greasers, and people in general anyway.