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The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (1967)

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I went into the outsiders with no prior knowledge of the book, author or movie and found myself quickly drawn in, finishing the whole book over two days.

I can’t say I always take to the “classic” novels but I found this one easy and enjoyable – probably due to being originally written for teenagers.

I found myself identifying with the characters while simultaneously being frustrated by their flaws. It was easy to relate to Ponyboy’s angst and uncertainty about his place in the world and I enjoyed the way the similarities were drawn between characters despite their different economic disparity. The face-off between “greasers” and “socs” or “socials” echoes the age old divide of haves and have-nots and was punctuated by violence, frustration and repressed emotions.

Although simple, the storyline featured enough action to keep any teenage boy or immature man (in my case) engrossed and along for the ride.

My main criticism of the book is that the female characters were poorly developed and the love interests largely pointless in the overall storyline. I was surprised to learn it was actually written by a teenage girl -S E Hinton was only 15 when started writing the book and 17 when it was published.

Overall it was an enjoyable read and is a strong three pints and a schooner out of five for me.

Lucas Earle (Northcote Chapter)

This is a novel that was written by a 15 year old author who wanted to tell a story with the authentic voice of young people, and that is a remarkable achievement in itself.

The novel is the first hand account of Sodapop lives with his two brothers who have lost both parents in a car accident, Sodapop belongs to the working class ‘Greasers’ tribe who wear distinctive hair styles and are the enemies of the ‘the Socs’ white middle-class kids with distinctive clothes and better cars. The two tribes engage in fights which are strangely ritualised – no chains or no knives, no firearms and initially staring silently at each other first like medieval armies. The police rarely come in time and parents seem to be unaware of these battles. The violence described is real but ecstatic and enjoyed by all sides, even those that come off the worst . Injuries as well as victories are badges of manly pride.

That’s the extent of the controversy – though it still manages to get banned by school boards from time to time in the US. The tribes are still recognisably ‘decent’ and aspire to better things even if they do not actually try to do so. Sodapop still feels that he can educate his way out of his social station,. Sodapop shows the value of people despite social differences by platonically bonding with a ’Soc’ girl Cherry over mutual appreciation of sunsets. Despite the fact that the participants are awash with hormones and sexual tension, and the key event in the novel involves a standoff over Cherry there is no mention or hint of sexual activity , even kissing or petting. No wonder everybody gets into physical fights.

He and his friend Johnny flee after killing Bob , a Greaser who was almost drowning Sodapop. They hide in a church and read ‘Gone with the wind’ . Then they redeem themselves by rescuing a group of schoolkids who are drawn like star Trek redshirts to an inflammable abandoned church for no clear reason.

Despite the fact that teenage ‘delinquents’ like them would have had the full force of the law thrown against them by aggrieved middle class parents of the “my boy was a good boy” victim. Instead the church rescue and Cherry’s testimony at the trial redeems Sodapop and he does not suffer any penalties, and even gets to stay living with his brothers. . Johnny, who wielded the knife avoids testing credibility further by dies in hospital from burns whilst managing to write a goodbye note like a dying statement in old pulp movies after someone gets shot, just before they go “aaargh” and die.

In 1967 this had a great impact for its POV and authentic words. However, in 1967 the US had an amazing music scene, the dark shadow of Vietnam war, race riots , the long shadow of Kennedy’s assassination , and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Nothing of the sort intrudes on this world. What do we have instead is an all-white cast of asexual male teenagers and young adults who think saying “tuff” signifies coolness.

Our chapter heard a great comment during our discussion that it reads like it was written by a 15 year old . Despite being remarkable for an author of that age, it no longer shocks like it did in 1967. In the age of modern gang violence, this novel is as shocking as a schoolyard fight during recess.

Carmelo Aquilina (Leichhardt Chapter)

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