S. E. Hinton’s novels are fine examples of young adult literature, and The Outsiders in particular is credited with igniting the trend toward realistically based young adult fiction. Her uncanny ability to write about issues that concern young people, such as finding their place in a cruel and unfair world, has resulted in enduring popularity among new generations of young adults over the years. Hinton creates effective, memorable characters who stand out as individuals even though they are often quite similar to one another, and her use of male protagonists with introspective sensibilities helps her reach a broad audience of both male and female readers. Hinton’s fans also delight in the subtle connections between her novels, with major characters from earlier books sometimes appearing in small but significant roles in later books.
As a whole, Hinton’s body of work shows the developments that have taken place not only in her writing but also her personal life and the world around her. Her earliest work focuses primarily on the tensions between socioeconomic classes and lack of parental support, whether through death or abandonment. Gradually, however, she began incorporating into her fiction the growing threat of drug abuse and the development of hippie culture, as well as her personal love of horses. The long-enduring popularity of her books has given her the freedom to experiment outside the genre for which she is known.
Hinton’s first novel, The Outsiders, remains her best-known book. It is a staple on high school reading lists, but is also regularly challenged because of its controversial subject matter. Written from the first-person perspective of a fourteen-year-old boy, The Outsiders is not autobiographical but rather based on amalgams of the people and situations that Hinton observed around her, thus contributing to its realism. The narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, reflects on his life as a greaser, or kid from the wrong side of the tracks, a life that has become more difficult since a car accident claimed his parents’ lives. Ponyboy and his two older brothers must fend for themselves, yet they are far better off than many of the greasers who make up their extended family, including Johnny Cade, who is alternately beaten and ignored by his parents, and Dallas “Dally” Winston, who in spite of his young age has already done jail time.
Ponyboy’s life rapidly spirals out of control when he and Johnny are attacked by a drunken group of Sociables, or Socs (pronounced SOHSH-ehz), the well-off teens from the other side of town. Fearing for their lives, Johnny stabs and kills one of the attackers, and the two friends must go on the run. They eventually decide to turn themselves in but are diverted by a fire, in which Johnny is critically injured while trying to save some children. When Johnny dies from his injuries, Dally is devastated and deliberately creates a situation that will cause the police to shoot him. The three deaths in rapid succession shock the town, and Ponyboy tries to pick up the pieces of his life, starting with writing about the events for a school assignment.
Because of its sharp contrast with the more superficial books that were popular at the time, The Outsiders shocked many adults with its frank descriptions of parental abuse, underage drinking, violent fights, and other delinquent behavior. Young readers found the realism refreshing, however, and Hinton received mail from countless readers thanking her for writing the book. While critics pointed out that the story was perhaps overly sentimental and the writing undisciplined, many of them recognized the raw emotional power that Hinton had harnessed.
That Was Then, This Is Now
That Was Then, This Is Now, Hinton’s second novel, takes place in the same setting as The Outsiders and even features Ponyboy Curtis in a small role, but the work is not considered a sequel. In this story, Bryon has been friends with Mark from early...
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