by S. E. Hinton
The Outsiders is S. E. Hinton’s popular and enduring story about class, friendship, and family, wrapped in a narrative about youth gang wars, presumably taking place in the ’50s or ’60s. Ponyboy and Johnny––both greasers, the lower-class gang––end up killing a Soc in self-defense. (Soc: short for “social,” so likely closer to “soash” than “sock.”) In going into hiding, they start to understand the humanity that lurks beneath the hard surface people from both sides of the tracks put up to survive in this harsh world.
I don’t know if I can properly express how important The Outsiders was to my seventh-grade self, so, for reasons I previously touched on, I’ve been putting off re-reading it for a while now. And this one didn’t hold up for me, but the revisiting exercise put me in a reflective state that, ultimately, led to a better appreciation for stories I dislike. The two main issues I had this time around had to do with an unsatisfactory building and pacing along with blatant explanations of both the plot and the story’s deeper concepts. So I had to stop and consider why this story was so appealing to my younger self, and what changed since then. I think the truth has something to do with stages of literary growth. Looking back on my personal experience, I can identify three main stages: reading without much thought, reading deeper meanings with help, and analytical reading. Books that became influential on my reading seemed to almost act as gateways between stages in this paradigm. It’s as though I caught a glimpse of something that opened up my understanding of what could be done with a story, and the books I began to search out and those I enjoyed changed accordingly. Stories with more overt explanations were a necessity at a stage where things left unsaid would have easily passed me by. After absorbing more books, some came along that left me bewildered, like Naked Lunch, and, in doing my best to make sense of them, I began to develop an appreciation for authors who refused to offer clean explanations. (Of course, my change in heart where The Outsiders is concerned could also be explained by a more general lack of reading experience. Having consumed fewer books likely made me have a distorted sense of the story’s offerings when I last read it; I recall seeing it as profound and gritty, but have since encountered works that I felt were much more successful on both accounts.)
But I don’t want this to come across as a suggestion that there’s no value in a book like The Outsiders. In my case, it was hugely important in my development as a reviewer, and I can accept that my current opinion is largely a matter of tastes that changed as a result of my overall literary journey. As such, I can just as easily accept that anyone pushed in a different direction by consuming and enjoying vastly different books than me will have a vastly different opinion, and it’s just as valid. I guess the trick is finding people with similar tastes in literature with whom you can talk about it.