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Review: The Outsiders by SE Hinton

The Outsiders by SE Hinton Review: The Outsiders by SE Hinton


Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the sights you want to see.

One of the things I feel that I dont see enough of in todays YA is unpolished rawness. Instead theres this strange facsimile of voice, which all too often comes across as a transcribed telephone conversation: colloquial and snarky, but airy and empty.'I expect that this demographic homogeneity is in part why weve seen a huge shift towards the paranormal and the dystopian genres: authors seem to think that theres not enough to the average teenagers existence to get a book out of it. Todays YA is suffering for its over-reliance on plot; its vapid, patronising attempts to render the teenage voice; its suggestion that everyday life isnt worth writing about.

Its kind of odd, isnt it, given that SE Hintons'The Outsiders is held up as a novel that changed the face of young adult literature, as a book that made YA what it is today. But this isnt, as you might expect given this, a book with a twisty plot, scope-creeping ambitions, or zingy humour. Its a book that feels as though its written'to teens rather than'for'teens. Its messy and rough and all over the place, but thats the point: it feels real. The'writing in this is by no means beautiful, but its so achingly honest, a parabolic mix of yearning and fear and frustration and hope.

Ponyboy Curtis might only be fourteen, but he has an impressively incisiveand heartbreakingly matter-of-factawareness of the stratification of our world. A Greaser from the tough side of town, he runs with small crew of self-described delinquents who are constantly facing off against the Socs, the rich kids. But through Ponyboys narrative we see that despite the divisiveness of their appearances, the two groups arent so different. The Socs might be well-dressed and well-spoken, but theyre no strangers to the possibility of brutality; the Greasers, on the other hand, encourage deficit thinking, but amongst them are kids who have serious potential. In both cases environmental and social forces have guided them to become who they are. But curiously, a large part of the groups unhappiness comes not from the fact that they are who they are, but rather the antagonism from the other group.

Through his friendship with the Soc Cherry, Ponyboy begins to find common ground between the two groups, and we see the beginnings of a white flag being stitched together before a horrific turn of events divides the groups entirely. Its tragic to see how these entrenched norms and values can so vehemently come between groups of people whose members might be tentatively seeking a way beyond whats really a pretty arbitrary opposition. But even so, theres a thread of hope: Ponyboys belief in the beauty of the world and in small kindnesseshe picks up a handful of broken glass to prevent someone from ruining a tyre on it, for exampleis both enduring and catching, and these resonate throughout the narrative even as everything else goes to hell.

Theres something so true to life and familiar about'The Outsiders: it grabs you and doesnt let go. Perhaps its because its thick with the energy of a young writer whose roughshod approach hasnt been scrubbed away by the tempering file of adulthoodor by the same-iness that comes from trying to appeal to a mass market. You feel as though youre there, breathless, beside the characters, and perhaps, too, right there with the author.

Rating: star Review: The Outsiders by SE Hintonstar Review: The Outsiders by SE Hintonstar Review: The Outsiders by SE Hintonstar Review: The Outsiders by SE Hintonblankstar Review: The Outsiders by SE Hinton (excellent)

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Other books by SE Hinton:

That was Then This is Now by SE Hinton Review: The Outsiders by SE HintonRumble Fish by SE Hinton Review: The Outsiders by SE Hinton

Tex by SE Hinton Review: The Outsiders by SE Hinton


  1. Great review! I loved what you said about missing the rawness and how a lot of authors dont think theres enough to draw from a teenagers life. A brilliant contemporary story will aways win out for me over para/dystopian etc. Im gonna pick up a copy of this :)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Trinity! Im yearning for realistic YA at the moment, and literary YA as well. Id love to see something quiet and low stakes, something thats low on the melodrama and big on the real-life drama. :)

  2. My younger sister read this book and its one of those stories that she loves and re-reads all the time. Its also a book Ive been meaning to read to read for a while now, great review :)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Zino! It definitely seems to be a book thats struck a chord with a lot of readers. :)

  3. Bravo! I love this book. I read it four times a year because I teach it each 9 weeks to a new group of students, and the funny thing is that I never tire of it. Great review. My students are writing book reviews, as we speak, for The Outsiders and I plan on sharing your review. Thanks!


    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Cynthia! Im delighted to hear that both you and your students enjoy this one, and even more delighted to hear that youd like to pass my review on to them. Youve made my day. :)

  4. I dont think he problem lies with the authors but the general confused mess of frantic marketing and chaos that is the publishing industry its easier to market a bat-crazy awesome dystopia than a story about a girl who is just, like, getting byor whatever. Im being super black and white here. Stay tuned for more nuance soon.

    But I LOVE the outsiders. Was surprised how rough it was when I re-read it last year. Its brilliantly scrappy and teen and genuine and heartfelt.

    • Stephanie /

      I completely agree, Kate. I think Im going to expand on that paragraph in a blog post about it: theres obviously a lot I havent captured here, but I think its a problem thats perhaps less about authors about more about authors who are trying to write something that will get published. With all this stuff about hooks and high stakes its little wonder that so many books are about saving the world from imminent destruction!

      Its so lovely sometimes to read something that isnt overly polished. I do think that excessive editorial handling can file a book down to something thats less than its potential. A diamond in the rough can be a lot bigger and more impressive than one filed back to a tiny little chip, after all. ;)

  5. 7th grade teacher /

    I think we have to mention that this insightful novel was written by HInton when she was just 16 years old!!! This fact blows me away since I have read it dozens of times and I still make new observations and connections every time I pick it up. It is very difficult to find a class novel that appeals to both boys and girls. This novel never disappoints! It is the perfect cross generational bookyoung adults and old adults love the characters and cant stop reading it! At the end of the school year, I ask my students to name some highlights from my class. Reading The Outsiders is always in the top two!

    • Stephanie /

      Absolutely: its astonishing that someone so young could write something so powerful and enduring. I do think that part of what makes this book so excellent is that it feels so raw and passionate, and I wonder whether thats the stamp of youth. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, which I read recently, has a similar feel, and was also written when the author was very young.

      Im so glad to hear that this one continues to appeal!

  6. I really need to read this book. Great review :)

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Belle! I know, Im finally catching up on all of these modern YA classics!

  7. I first read this book when I was 13, and when I finished it, I thought Id never be able to read another book again. Nothing has ever hit me quite the way this story did. Its the book that changed my life and made me want to be a writer. Its probably also the reason why I write contemporary stories about people and emotions rather than world saving.

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