It can be difficult for teenagers to delve into young adult fiction. Generally, teen fiction is written by adults who are trying to appeal to a teenage audience. This is not the case for S.E. Hinton who wrote this award-winning novel when she was only 15 years old.
S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is a book that can appeal to all ages, but it is particularly for teens around the age Hinton was when she penned the story. Very much like the author herself, the narrative is told through the voice of Ponyboy Curtis, a young teenager who struggles with being a part of the ‘out-crowd’ and the artificial identities that are placed upon him in result of his socio-economic status: an effective example of Erikson’s ‘morality vs. role confusion’ stage of teen development.
After experiencing a violent ordeal, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny are forced to hide themselves from the rest of society. The remainder of the story follows the boys as they experience hardships that are very different from the hardships of both children and adults alike. The novel also boasts a great cast of both male and female characters. Hinton does a wonderful job at avoiding the “good” and the “bad”, and instead highlights the grayness in humanity that stops us from being wholly good or wholly bad. This aspect touches on the rising moral development of its teen readers (as explained in Kohlberg’s ‘post-conventional morality’ stage) who are beginning to understand decision-making based on moral development and nurtured values. This is a novel about teens, told through the eyes of a teen, and written by a teen herself. It plainly grasps the difficulties that come only during the transitioning time in a young adult’s life.
Another wonderful thing about this novel is the timelessness of it. The novel was set and written in the 1960s. Although some of the styles and slang have changed drastically since then, the social issues in the novel have stayed pertinent over the fifty years since its release.
Readers who enjoyed S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders may also enjoy Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak. Both novels deal with young adults as they struggle with the fear of being a social enigma and the hope of finding one’s identity through harrowing experiences.
Although it could be read by pre-teens, this novel involves mature themes such as cursing, theft, gang violence, gun violence, and the smoking and drinking of minors. So much so that this novel was placed on the Top 100 List of Banned Books in the decade before 2000. Despite that, or maybe because of it, teen readers have resounded with this novel over the years.
S.E. Hinton’s novel is far from a romanticized view of teenage life. In a genre flooded with fantasy and fairytale endings, Hinton’s The Outsiders is a glimpse of a once reality and, in a way, an existing one.