The Outsiders is a coming of age sort of story which works really well, probably because the author wrote the book when she was just seventeen years old. It is told very simply and directly from the viewpoint of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old ‘Greaser.’ The author captures the main character’s personality and concerns so well and so naturally.
Ponyboy lives with his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop. Their parents were killed in a car accident and twenty year old Darry has taken on the role of keeping the family together. He is bent on avoiding any situation that would give an opportunity for the authorities to send his younger brothers off to boys’ homes. He has had to grow up fast and work hard and Ponyboy, not understanding his older brother’s situation, believes he doesn’t care and sees everything he does as unnecessary interference in his life.
Something that really struck me about this book was the value placed on the role of parents. This isn’t something you’d normally encounter in a book dealing with the struggles of adolescence and it was quite refreshing.
‘Darry and Sodapop were my brothers and I loved both of them, even if Darry did scare me; but not even Soda could take Mom and Dad’s place.’
Johnny was the Greaser gang’s pet, everyone’s kid brother. His father was always beating him and his mother ignored him, unless she was angry, and then she just yelled.
He could stay out all night and nobody would notice. When Ponyboy complained about his older brother, Johnny said, ‘I ain’t got nobody,’
Ponyboy was startled out of his misery:
‘Shoot…you got the whole gang. Dally didn’t slug you tonight ‘cause you’re the pet. I mean, golly, Johnny, you got the whole gang.’
‘It ain’t the same as having your own folks care about you,’ Johnny said simply. ‘It just ain’t the same.’
The Greasers were from the poorer side of town while their rival gang, the ‘Socs,’ were well-heeled and drove around in cars looking for Greasers to fight with. The two gangs were continually warring with each other but one night one of them was killed and everything changed for Ponyboy. Two gang members ended up on the run and suddenly it was no longer ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Ponyboy’s former enemies are just like him – human.
‘Soda fought for fun, Steve for hatred, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity. Why do I fight? I thought, and couldn’t think of any real good reason. There isn’t any real good reason for fighting except self-defence.’
The Outsiders is a quick but memorable read suitable for readers around the age of 15 yrs and up.
I first heard about the book when I hosted a ‘Mum Culture’ evening where a group of us discussed some of our most memorable reads. The gist of The Outsiders was mentioned, although the title had been forgotten and immediately someone else jumped in and said, “I loved that book!” and told everyone the title. So of course, I had to it check it out.
The ultimate test came when I gave it to my 15 year old daughter to read and she gave it her tick of approval also.
(I happened to notice that Ambleside Online has it as a free read in Year 11. I missed that in previous years so I don’t know if its been added lately or I just didn’t see it.)