S. E. Hinton's third novel, Rumble Fish (1975), is similar to her first two novels, The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now, in that it stars a troubled teenager from a precarious background and is told from a young man's point of view. However, it's different from the two previous books because they both featured teenagers who were more intelligent and sensitive than their peers and who were wiser by the end of the book. In contrast, in Rumble Fish Rusty-James is a victim of circumstance in a story that does not provide much hope for his future.
Like Hinton's other books, this novel helped to shape the young adult genre, moving it toward realism and away from the wholesome, overly nice story lines that had prevailed before Hinton began writing her gritty tales. Hinton's style has been widely imitated by other writers since her debut in 1967.
The book was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 1975, was listed as one of the Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal in 1975, and won a Land of Enchantment Book Award from the New Mexico Library Association in 1982. In 1988, Hinton was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her body of work.