As Banned Books Week draws to a close, I thought I’d share one of my favorites, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. This books remains in the top 50 banned books for 1990-1999 at the number 38 spot. If you skipped this book in High School, I implore you to give it another shot.
The story follows the lives of Ponyboy, his two brothers Darry and Sodapop, and their “gang” of greasers as they deal with the death of their parents, their positions in life, and trouble with the law caused by the accidental death of a rival (Bob). Ponyboy and Johnny run away from the scene of the crime in order to evade the authorities and the repercussions of what happened. They stay at a church out of town for five days and end up saving a group of children from a burning church. Johnny is severely injured during their act of heroism and requires hospitalization…will he survive? Ponyboy goes back to school and brings the book full circle with his theme paper. It begins as the book began, “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight…”
The Outsiders is brilliantly crafted. There are references weaved throughout related to sunlight, gold, and goodness. It is apparent that being “good” is something that Ponyboy struggles with…or at least the persona of being worthy. It begins and ends with “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight…” References to Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and the unforgettable, “Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.”
It is well known that this novel has come under some scrutiny in terms of content. According to one Banned Book blog, it was challenged in Milwaukee because “drug and alcohol abuse was common and virtually all the characters were from broken homes.” S.E. Hinton did include some tough issues in the novel, and while there is nothing eloquent about the way she did it, she gave the reader a glimpse into the life of greasers in Oklahoma in the 1960s—warts and all. I applaud Hinton and The Outsiders because life is not always going to be pretty and without sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Teens will be teens after all.
This book is appropriate for grades 7-9, but I really enjoyed it myself, so I think older teens might as well. The book tackles tough issues like gang violence, death, social stigma and cigarettes/drinking. These are all things that middle and high school kids will deal with at some point (maybe not gang violence…depending on your community) and it is doing them no good to shelter them from said topics.
This book was one of the assigned reads when I was in High School. I distinctly remember not liking it…I may not have even finished it back then. This time, I opened the book and could not put it down. While I was reading it, I couldn’t remember many of the plot lines from my first read-through, so it was like a fresh start with the book (one of the reasons I am unsure if I even finished the book in High School). I immediately connected with all of the characters. I enjoyed the way the book was written because it truly seemed like a teen wrote it—S.E. Hinton wrote this at 16! And, when the final sentence was the same as the first, bringing it full-circle (as if it truly was written by Ponyboy); my mind was blown. Such a simple literary mechanism and I was not expecting it at all. I am the middle child in my family, so I thought it was odd that I related more to Ponyboy than to Sodapop, and my younger sister is much more like Soda. I could definitely see my older brother in Darry. He was always very protective and I never knew how much he cared until later in life. I also really enjoyed the casual/matter-of-factness of the story’s tone. It felt like something similar to Grease or West Side Story (two of my favorite musicals). I don’t think I gave this book a fair chance in High School, but I am glad a revisited it.
Realistic fiction, coming of age, family, friendship, teen angst, sibling rivalry, underage drinking, murder, heroism, death, runaway, gang violence, social standing in a community
A few reasons for banning/challenge:
- Underage smoking and drinking
- Gang activity
- Character from broken homes