The Outsiders is by far one of my all time favorite books to read with students, note I didn’t say teach, this is a discussion book. One of the first things I tell my students is a bit about the author S.E. Hinton. She was 15 when began she writing this book, it was semi-biographical based on the groups/cliques of her hometown. She says she got the letter that it was going to be published on the day of her high school graduation, she was 18. I love to point out her age it’s a great example of you can do and achieve anything you want and age does not necessarily make a difference.
Ponyboy Curtis, the main character and narrator, grew up in the wrong side of the tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s a Greaser, so named for the hair grease they use. Most everyone in his neighborhood is a Grease but not everyone is in the same “gang”. I use the quotation marks because in the case of Pony and his friends gang really just means group of friends though some other groups of Greasers are more like the gangs of today.
The other big group are the Socs, short for Socials, the rich kids, the kids that have it all. These are the kids that run around causing trouble, getting in fights, and it’s just a matter of “boys will be boys” yet if one of the Greasers causes the same trouble he goes to juvie.
Ponyboy lives with his older brothers Sodapop and Darrell aka Darry, seems after the first born the Curtis parents got creative with names. Darry has been taking care of Soda and Pony since their parents died in a car accident. Soda has dropped out of school and works at a local gas station with is best friend Steve. Darry works in carpentry having given up the possibility of college and college football when their parents died.
Rounding out the Greasers is Dally the roughest of the bunch having lived on the streets of New York City for three years, Keith “Two-Bit” Matthews a smart-aleck klepto, and Johnny. Johnny comes from a bad home, he’s verbally and physically abused. At the beginning of the book Pony is walking home from the movies alone when he is jumped by a group of Socs, fortunately for him the gang comes along to save him. Johnny himself having recently been jumped and beaten by a group of Socs hangs back a bit.
Ok I’m stopping with the recap here before I get to the really good parts partially because almost everyone knows them from the book or movie and partially because if you don’t I don’t want to give it away.
This is one of those books that gets kids reading. It’s one of two that are listed when my former students have told me “I never read until you made me read ____________” with the other being The Giver.
It’s amazing how a book written in the 60s resonates today. The hairstyles,clothing, and cars may be different but the attitudes of cliques and teenagers in general is not so far off. I’ve read this book with students who live in the city, suburbs, and country and all have connected with it in some way. If you haven’t read it, GO PICK IT UP! Likewise if you haven’t seen the movie, go get it, just try and pick up the 20th anniversary edition because they added some scenes back into the movie and it’s a fuller retelling of the novel.