Explain why The Outsiders is or is not an appropriate book for middle school.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With middle-school students having attained a worldliness that has been accelerated from the social media, television, cinema, activities at school that were formerly reserved for high school, S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders is a novel that is appropriate and relative for them, perhaps, more than ever since violence in the school environment has even touched elementary schools.

It is essential to judge Hinton's novel on how the drug use and violence that is in the narrative is presented. Rather than encouraging these activities, Hinton focuses upon how the characters learn to resolve conflicts and deal with these issues, as well as the terrible consequences that can result from certain actions and conflicts, such as the death of Johnny. In realistic situations that interest students, Hinton contrasts characters in such a way that students come to judgments on their own about the consequences of certain behaviors, friendship, loyalty, etc. In Chapter 12, for example, after the hearing about the death of Johnny, the Socs approach Ponyboy, accusing him of killing Bob Sheldon. Ponyboy breaks the neck off a bottle, threatening them; at this point, Two-Bit intervenes, reminding Ponyboy of Johnny's words to "Stay gold" as he urges Ponyboy,

“Ponyboy, listen, don't get tough. You're not like the rest of us and don't try to be..."

What was the matter with Two-Bit? I knew as well as he did that if you got tough you didn't get hurt. Get smart and nothing can touch you...
"What in the world are you doing?" Two-Bit's voice broke into my thoughts.
I looked up at him. "Picking up the glass."
He stared at me for a second, then grinned. "You little sonofagun," he said in a relieved voice. I didn't know what he was talking about, so I just went on picking up the glass from the bottle end and put it in a trash can. I didn't want anyone to get a flat tire.” 

Reading this ethical encouragement from such a character as Two-Bit is probably more effective in altering pre-teens' and teens' attitudes than the words of parents or other authority figures. Moreover, Ponyboy is an exemplary character in his courage and humility.