S. E. Hinton 1950–
(Full name Susan Eloise Hinton) American novelist, children's writer, and screenwriter.
The following entry provides an overview of Hinton's career through 1995.
S. E. Hinton helped to change the tone of young adult fiction with the publication of The Outsiders (1967). Dissatisfied with the pristine portrayals of teenagers in traditional adolescent novels, Hinton, still a teen herself, created this popular story of class conflict and gang rivalry. Critics responded favorably to Hinton's unpretentious narrative style and her skillful development of plot and character. Unlike formulaic teenage novels, The Outsiders and Hinton's subsequent novels, including That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975), Tex (1979), and Taming the Star Runner (1988), contain characters who cope with such challenges as violence, poverty, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
Hinton was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1950 and enjoyed reading as a child. Her enthusiasm for reading continued into her adolescence, but she soon found that the selection of books she was able and allowed to read was limited. She commented: "A lot of adult literature was older than I was ready for. The kids' books were all Mary Jane-Goes-to-the-Prom junk. I wrote The Outsiders so I'd have something to read." The overwhelming success of The Outsiders, which sold more than four million copies in the United States alone, enabled Hinton to attend the University of Tulsa, where she met David Inhofe, who later became her husband, and where in 1970 she earned a bachelor's degree in education. Because she was intimidated by the expectations that others had of her following the 1967 publication of The Outsiders, Hinton did not produce another novel until 1971, when That Was Then, This Is Now was published. She wrote two more novels in the 1970s, Rumble Fish and Tex, and then began focusing on other interests. During the 1980s Hinton collaborated on and supervised the production of several film adaptations of her books, including the commercially successful 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film based on The Outsiders. She also devoted time to her personal life in the 1980s, giving birth to a son, Nicholas David. Hinton's last novel to date, Taming the Star Runner, was published in 1988, but since that time she has produced two works for young children, Big David, Little David (1994) and The Puppy Sister (1995).
In each of her novels, Hinton depicts the survival and maturation of her adolescent male protagonists, tough yet tender lower-class boys who live in and around Tulsa and who grow by making difficult decisions. Using colloquial language and often a first-person narrative style, Hinton addresses such themes as appearance versus reality, the need to be loved and to belong, the meaning of honor, and the limits of friendship. Society is shown as a claustrophobic and often fatal environment that contributes to the fear and hostility felt by her characters. Based on events that occurred in her high school in Tulsa, The Outsiders describes the rivalry between two gangs, the lower-middle-class greasers and the upper-class Socs (for Socials), a conflict that leads to the deaths of members of both gangs. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, a sensitive, orphaned greaser who tells the story in retrospect, the novel explores the camaraderie, loyalty, and affection that lie behind the gang mystique while pointing out similarities between members of the opposing groups and the futility of gang violence. In That Was Then, This Is Now, foster brothers Bryon and Mark begin drifting apart as one becomes preoccupied with school and social concerns and the other becomes heavily involved with drugs and crime. Hinton's Rumble Fish also explores the themes of gang violence and coming of age. The story focuses on a disillusioned young man who tries to establish a reputation for himself as a local tough but gradually loses everything that has held meaning for him. Tex follows two brothers who are left in each other's care by their unstable father. The book investigates how delinquent youths try to survive in an environment rife with drugs, violence, social upheaval, and familial discord. In Hinton's last novel to date, Taming the Star Runner, she relates the story of a fifteen-year-old's self-discovery during a summer spent on his uncle's horse ranch. Hinton's first work for young readers, Big David, Little David, is a comic tale that concerns the young narrator's confusion when his father and a boy in his class have the same name; little Nick's puzzlement is compounded when his father leads him to believe that he and the boy in Nick's class are the same person. The Puppy Sister, Hinton's most recent published work, tells the fanciful story of a young boy who wishes so strongly for a sibling that his puppy becomes a human sister; the narrative details the difficulties and confusion that arise from the puppy's transformation.
Although she has been taken to task by many critics for over-emphasizing the machismo of her male characters and for creating underdeveloped, superficial female characters, Hinton has also been praised for her protagonists' depth of emotion and perceptiveness. Her straightforward, unadorned prose style has been compared favorably with that of Ernest Hemingway, but has also been faulted as awkward and not representative of true adolescent speech. Many critics have detected a more mature, controlled quality to Hinton's later narratives, and her works for children have been lauded for their complex characters and compelling, well-developed plots, as well as for their unique, imaginative concepts. Although many critics have noted a tendency toward melodrama in her novels, Hinton's popularity with young readers has endured, and in 1988 she received the American Library Association's Young Adult Services Division/School Library Journal Author Award in recognition of her contribution to literature for young adults.