“Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.”
You know when you sometimes decide to read a random book, completely on a whim, and then you turn that final page and let out a breath you didn’t know you were holding, before giving yourself a self-congratulatory pat on the back for making a terrific choice? What a feeling, right? Well, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was that kind of novel for me.
I can’t remember who recommended this to me, whether it was a friend or an article I read somewhere—but I owe a debt to whoever the person was that brought this book to my attention. The Outsiders is an intense, breathless novel which explores gang culture in 1960s Oklahoma, focusing on the two types of people that make up our narrator Ponyboy’s world: the Socs, rich society kids that have it all; and the greasers, who aren’t so well off. For Ponyboy, one of the latter, his life is basically one big battle between the two groups—with often horrible consequences.
Hinton envelops the reader in a world that for most will seem so far removed from their own life, as we feel every punch thrown and each bitterly cold night. It’s hard not to feel something for these young kids with their strange names and futures that promise so little. The relationships are more than just casual camaraderie: this is a group that, in reality, is one big extended family. Some are orphans, others victims of abuse from their parents. But they all have each other—and this love is what drives a narrative that is often heart-wrenching, but also at times heart-warming and playful.
Sure, there is heartache and loss—what else would one expect from the circumstances in which these kids live? Yet there is joy and laughter too. The in-jokes, the ribbing and teasing—even the inevitable arguments that flare up between different members of the group—all show that this is a world that these kids have adapted to, each in their own way. Of course there’s toughness to them all—there has to be by the nature of the world they live. Switchblades, guns and even safehouses are all readily available, and all are accustomed to the blood and violence which is a part of their everyday lives.
Nevertheless, throughout The Outsiders you can’t help but feel that these are a bunch of children well out of their depths; resourceful on the surface undoubtedly, but inside as scared and alone as the next person in the group. Hinton explores this with an assured touch, deftly and subtly exploring a culture in a narrative style that is clear and precise—making the narrative better for it. This is a feat that is made all the more impressive considering Hinton was just 17-years-old at the time of writing the book, and I marvel at the fact she could write such a touching story of love and loyalty at such a young age.
The Outsiders is an impressive novel and one which I would recommend to, well, everyone. It’s hardly a “feel good” story, not by any means, but Hinton’s heart-wrenching exploration of trust, friendship and love—through such a vulnerable, youthful voice—makes for a gripping, emotional read; a reminder, perhaps, that we should all try to “stay gold.”