Like so many of us, I was first introduced to this book back in high school. Being forced to read it for an assignment and honestly I remembered the main storyline, but don’t remember thinking much of it otherwise.
The biggest problem is that while there are some kids that really connect with a book like this, for most of the books we’re forced to read in school, we just aren’t ready to really understand them yet. So often this results in a lot of truly fantastic books and stories being lost to the ignored shelves of “school books” that no one wants to revisit as an adult because they remember not liking it as a kid when they read it for school.
When I saw a copy of this book in a local thrift store for less than a dollar, I had to pick it up because I figured it was one that was well worth revisiting now as an adult. And so, here we are.
When it comes to writing this review, it occurs to me that this book, as with most “books we read in school”, there have been probably a billion book reviews written about it. Whether it be from a scholarly thematic viewpoint, societal implications, and all the deeper meanings tied to this amazing little story.
So I’m going to keep things strictly in the realm of my experience re-reading this now after all these years.
As I dove into this book, I shared a video on Instagram recommending it as a “quick weekend read” and cautioning that “while the writing may seem a little simplistic” it was still worth checking out. I had disregarded some of the “simplistic” writing in the first half of the book due to finding out that S.E. Hinton had been just 16 years old when she wrote this novel.
What a ridiculous statement for me to have made.
The writing isn’t simplistic. Hinton has an amazing grasp of writing as if our main character Ponyboy, a 14 year old kid whose parents have died and is now being raised by his two older brothers and their gang of “greasers”, is telling us this wild and heartbreaking story. He’s narrating his own coming of age story to we the readers, and this is all hammered home so beautifully in the last few lines of this book.
While the first half to two thirds of this book were interesting and pushed the story forward, it felt a little bit meandering at times. But when that final act kicks in, all I can say is wow. I can’t remember the last time I read a book and spent the last 40-50 pages simultaneously cheering for the main character, trying to focus on the words which became difficult as the tears were streaming down my face, and also feeling like I was soaking in a great cosmic reminder of the importance of remembering that while our life circumstances may not be ideal, we’re put here for a reason. We are not the what our current life situation says we are, we are not what society deems us to be. We all have struggle, no matter how good or bad the outside world sees us.
And we all have the power to realize that and fight like hell to do something better.
Life is messy. Life is complicated. But life is ours and we only get one of them. That’s why it’s worth fighting for.
I admit freely that when I first read this as a kid in school, most of this fell on deaf ears. I was too young to absorb and understand the wisdom this story presents. Frankly, at that age I had yet to face any real life difficulties or struggle.
Now as an adult in my mid forties, the lessons within these pages and within this wonderful story, hit a lot harder.
Had I stopped reading at the midway point of this book I would have given it a 2 or maybe 3 star rating. Yet another “classic” that really didn’t hold up to the hype around it. But upon finishing, and largely because that last act serves to pull everything together in amazing fashion, it skyrocketed up the star ratings.
It’s a short read full of heartbreak, hope, and lessons we can all serve to remember(especially in today’s culture) and I highly recommend it to anyone.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton gets 5 out of 5 stars.
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