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 BOOK REVIEW      

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Outsiders Ok. I’ve been procrastinating on this review all day. I never actually thought I’d write a review for this book, but I really want to. I just don’t know how to explain.

‘The Outsiders’ is my favorite book. Ever. Of all the thousands of books I’ve read, many of them beyond fantastic, this is still the book that always comes out on top. It’s been that way since I was 13 years old, when I first read this, and it blew my mind for the first time. And ever since then, it’s been the book that… That holds a bigger part of me than any other book, I suppose is the best way to say it.

‘The Outsiders’ is about a boy in his early teens, Ponyboy, who lives with his brothers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is in kind of a gang, but almost more a group, with his friends. Things are pretty tough for these boys, and they’re kind of just doing their best to get by and be normal. But they’re always being hassled (I say hassled, but I really mean ‘threatened with bodily harm, bodily harm which is sometimes delivered’) by a group of rich kids they call the Socs. That’s just the way life is for them, until Ponyboy’s friend Johnny is backed into a corner and takes drastic measures to get out.

(Oh, those synopses. You can see how really fantastic I am at writing them.)

I honestly can’t really say why I love this book so much. I think it was a lot of firsts for me‐ the first time I really loved characters that much, the first time I realized that friendships could be like that, mean that much, the first time that I realized you could write something like that, something so raw and honest and in your face, something that seems so simple but at its heart is violent and rough and true. It’s not like I’d never read books I’d enjoyed, or even loved, before reading this‐ far from it. But I don’t think I’d really read anything like this. I mean, the idea that people could live like this, people who were, at that time, close to my own age, and that it could be discussed like it was normal, was just… shocking. And the idea that Ponyboy and his friends could rely so much on each other, that they could feel the way they did about each other…

But I don’t think that all those firsts are why I love the book. I think I love it because… There’s something about it that digs into the deepest heart of me, that pokes all the places that I keep, hidden or visible, that make me who I am. I mean, the writing is fantastic, so natural and simple and direct, and the author, S.E. Hinton is always this way, kind of an ‘I’ll write how I want’ attitude, and it works for her. And the characterization is some of the best I’ve ever, ever read. I love these people. I adore Ponyboy‐ I think I felt, the first time I read this, that he was talking right to me, too. And the story is beyond engaging. But there’s more to it than that, for me. It just… hits me right. All the things that people want, the desire to be part of something, and at the same time the intense desire to not want to be part of the same thing, that period of your life when you’re trying to grow up but something in you can’t really face doing it yet, the friends you have that you love and don’t love for so many reasons…

Ugh. I’m not doing this right. This is so hard. It’s like someone asking you, what do you like about your own heart? I mean, you know you’re rather fond of it. It keeps you alive. It beats away in your chest and it makes you feel and love and hate. But could you really tell someone why you like it, specifically? I’m not saying ‘The Outsiders’ keeps me alive, or that it’s my heart. That’d be a bit creepy. And I know I’m overly gushy, but I’m not that gushy. …I hope. But if someone asked me the best way to get to know me within a few hours, I’d probably hand them this book. I’ve always thought that once a piece of art, whether it’s a book or a film or a painting or a song, is released, the viewers and readers, the consumers, of that art take it and make it a part of themselves. I just made ‘The Outsiders’ a big part of me.

I love how this book never tries to lead you anywhere. It never takes your hand and pulls you in one direction. It just tells a story about two groups of people. It spills out the facts and says ‘This is how it was, this is what happened, and you can take from it what you want.’ It’s so direct. It’s so… blunt. And at the same time, it’s so beautiful.

I thought about reading ‘The Outsiders’ again before I wrote this review. It’s what I usually do, when I want to review a book‐ read it again so I can feel that thrill you get when you read a great book, and translate that, specifically for whatever book it is, into what I want to write about it. I wanted to read this book again. But I decided I better not. I tend to get a bit trapped in this book when I read it. It’s circular‐ it ends where it starts, kind of‐ and most times, I just turn around and start reading it again. But I also get so caught up in it in my mind that it’s hard for me to think about anything else, especially writing my own things, when I’m reading it. It’s just kind of… all consuming for me.

I don’t really need to read it again, anyway, unless I want to. I can’t forget any of it. I have so much of it just ingrained in me. I remember the first time I read it. It was assigned to us in school, and I stayed up so late to finish it, and I was just bowled over by it. And then I tried to read it as many times as I could before I had to give that particular copy back to the school. I honestly wanted to memorize it so I wouldn’t have to be without it. I was kind of a lonely, unhappy kid then, and that was probably just a lot of early‐onset teenage angst going on. But even after all these years, and after the dozens of times I’ve read it, although I don’t really want to memorize the book word for word anymore, it certainly doesn’t mean any less to me. Far from it.

Maybe this book isn’t going to hit everyone the same way it hit me. But there’s so much that’s recognizable here, that’s universal but not usually expressed quite so simply and well. Friendship. Love. Family ties. Good people and bad people and how those lines get blurred in a million ways. Loss. Grief. Loneliness. The struggle to remain yourself when everything’s pushing against you to change. So, maybe I have a kind of obsession with the book. But it’s with good reason, I think. And since this book has helped to shape, or at least give shape to, so many of the things I like, the reasons I like something, what I look for when I read a book or watch a movie, how I myself write, and what I want to write, and even, maybe, what kind of person I want to be, I can’t regret that obsession much at all.  -SEL


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