Book review: The Outsiders

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

You know, there’s not a great deal of point to reviewing something like The Outsiders. It’s the sort of work that’s become such a cultural touchstone – who hadn’t heard “stay gold” before reading this? – that it’s impossible to rank it. The score won’t change anyone’s mind, nor will it change the book’s reputation.

Still, in the spirit of trying to review everything I read in order to give some shape to my post-read feelings, I’ll give it a go.

I was a rarity as far as this book goes, I think. I hadn’t read it at school, and it’s only now in my 40s that I’ve made time to do so. I was prepared for the novel – knowing it dated from the late ’60s and had been written largely when its author was 16 – to be a slightly more literary version of something like Guys And Dolls, and so I hadn’t expected much from the prose.

It’s pretty fair to say I was schooled by Hinton’s writing. My conclusions were quickly proven to be premature: the novel presents a compelling portrait of the troubles of adolescence, no matter which side of the tracks you grew up on. My expectations of superficiality were subverted with this surprisingly deft narrative, which sparked empathy for oddly-named characters and hapless hoodlums.

The spiky nature of desire and clannish companionship are explored well, and the book excels in showing how complete the power of expectation, of society’s pigeonholing can be. There’s something deeply universal in the story that’s played out in its Oklahoma setting, even if you grew up in Australia and never murdered anybody.

Hinton’s work handles its themes more carefully than I would have expected. I suppose that the demolition of my preconceived notions of the text are par for the course, given its subject matter.

The book is brief, and can be inhaled in a single sitting. I bought my copy from a high school’s garage sale, so it still has the school’s address stamped on its title page. I like to imagine that before it came to me, it passed through dozens of pairs of hands, their owners taking in – though perhaps not quite understanding, not yet – the message of universal connection contained in this tale of greasers and socs.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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