The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton: Review
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
I didn't know much about The Outsiders before I read it, except for one, iconic line. I see now that this quote was not immortalized for no reason, and that the meaning woven into the two, simple words is the core of a novel and story that time has not tarnished.
"Stay gold." ~S. E. Hinton
It's a tough life in the city. The lower-class "Greasers" and upper-class "Socs" (SOSH-es) are in constant conflict as diametric opposites, and Ponyboy, a greaser not yet jaded by his life, still wishes that, somehow, things could change. Ponyboy and "the gang" are a family, a brotherhood, and that means they stick together, watching each other's backs. But when a long-time conflict becomes a war and their hard reality becomes suddenly harder, they may need more than brotherhood to hold them together through it all.
Ponyboy really resonated with me as a protagonist, despite our very different realities. He's intelligent and introspective, and incredibly insightful into the bitter circumstances he has been dealt. There is something profound in the way he regards the world that struck a chord with me instantly—between his love for his brothers, loyalty to his friends, and longing for a better life, he represents not a jaded juvenile delinquent, but boy with a heart for purer things.
In one of my favourite parts in the novel, Ponyboy shares his brief experience with church, in which he and fellow greaser Johnny go to services with a genuine desire to learn. Though their rowdier friends soon bring an end to the practice, it really struck my heart. The fact that Ponyboy retains an appreciation for purity and goodness despite the liability to be hardened by his life is extremely powerful.
I loved the sense of family S.E. Hinton creates through the group of boys Ponyboy regards as "the gang". As a gal with three brothers and no sisters, there was familiarity in Ponyboy's family dynamic, and one of my favourite elements of the story was the camaraderie of brotherhood between the boys. Dally, Steve, Two-bit, Johnny, Ponyboy, Soda and Darry are all different in character, but unified in circumstance, and the fraternal loyalty between them is absolutely heart-warming.
Plot-wise, this book is gold (pardon the pun). Not cluttered, but steady-paced, tense and impactful, I was drawn in from the first page and held until the last. Literally. I read it in an afternoon. And I shed no small amount of tears, so take warning, this book comes Kleenex-not-included.
As a window into a flawed society, The Outsiders sugar-coats neither its message nor its characters. Those boys that are rascally and rough-around-the-edges effectively capture the child hardened by circumstance, and robbed too early of innocence. While Hinton alludes to their language and occasionally crass behaviour, I appreciated her masterful use of the written word to do so without explicit demonstration. That is the mark of a truly great writer, and it took this book to the next level.
I liken The Outsiders unto Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in that it's not just a good book, it's an important one. It's a window into a part of society some of us may never have seen, and a testament to the power of innocence and goodness even in the hardest realms of the world. Staying gold means retaining that goodness, refusing to be hardened, to be jaded by life . . . It's the faith of a child, pure and powerful, and The Outsiders glows with it from beginning to end.