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S(usan) E(loise) Hinton 1950–
Hinton helped to change the tone of young adult fiction with the publication at age seventeen of The Outsiders (1967). Dissatisfied with the pristine portrayals of teenagers in traditional adolescent novels, Hinton drew on experiences in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to create this popular story of class conflict and gang rivalry. Critics were impressed with Hinton's unpretentious narrative style and her skillful development of plot and character. Unlike formulaic teenage novels, The Outsiders and Hinton's subsequent works, That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975), and Tex (1979), deal with such topics as violence, poverty, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
Hinton's works revolve around lower-class teenage male protagonists who are unhappy with their lives and hostile toward others. Each of the young men experiences a conflict between his inner feelings and his reputation among his peers. In The Outsiders, Ponyboy Curtis realizes that the upper-class teenagers he is expected to hate have many of the values that are important to him; Bryon Douglas, in That Was Then, This Is Now, is disturbed because his best friend is a drug dealer; and Rusty-James in Rumble Fish and Tex in Tex both recognize the futility of pretending to be invulnerable.
Some critics fault Hinton for sexism in her portrayals of machismo protagonists and suggest that her female characters are inadequately developed. However, Hinton has been praised for the complexity of her protagonists and for the sensitivity she reveals beneath their tough surfaces. The popularity of Hinton's novels among young adults has been further enhanced by film adaptations of The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Tex.
(See also Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84; and Something about the Author, Vol. 19.)
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It is rare-to-unique among juvenile books … to find a novel confronting the class hostilities which have intensified since the Depression. The setting of [The Outsiders] is a small Oklahoma city, which underscores the national scope of a current problem and by-passes the subliminal reactions that attach to major cities. The boys in this book are neither unimaginable urban sophisticates nor unassimilated Puerto Ricans or Negroes running berserk; they are the pioneer-stock legatees of Huckleberry Finn. Ponyboy, the 14-year-old narrator, tells how it looks and feels from the wrong side of the tracks and of guerrilla raids into his territory by the traditional, well-heeled enemy from the residential district, and the beating that led to a murder charge and two deaths. The story is exciting and those difficult-to-serve kids at the culturally detached bottom of society can respond to this book, with its revelations of the latent decency of the urban slum characters, who are nearly but not yet hopeless…. The jacket says the author is a teenager. A writer not yet practiced in restraint perhaps, but nevertheless seeing and saying more with greater storytelling ability than many an older hand. (pp. 64-5)
Lillian N. Gerhardt, in a review of "The Outsiders," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal, Vol. 13, No. 9, May, 1967, pp. 64-5.
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Can sincerity overcome clichés? In ["The Outsiders"], by a now 17-year-old author, it almost does the trick. By almost any standard, Miss Hinton's performance is impressive. At an age when most youngsters are still writing 300-word compositions, she has produced a book alive with the fresh dialogue of her contemporaries, and has wound around it a story that captures, in vivid patches at least, a rather unnerving slice of teen-age America.
"The Outsiders" is told in the first person by 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis—a "greaser" or lower class kid who slicks his hair and slouches around in T-shirts and jeans. Arch rivals of...
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the Greasers are the Socs—short for Socials, kids with Madras shirts and Mustangs. Apparently in Tulsa, where Miss Hinton sets her story, the poor guys don't beat up the rich guys. It works the other way around—and she uses this switch to build up quite a head of self-pitying steam for her hero and his friends. (pp. 10, 12)
Hinton's fire-engine pace does not give the reader much time to manufacture doubts. And the final confrontation between Ponyboy and the Socs, in which he realizes they too are pretty mixed-up kids, is a comforting if not quite believable ending. (p. 12)
Thomas Fleming, in a review of "The Outsiders," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II, May 7, 1967, pp. 10, 12.
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Like Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Ponyboy [in The Outsiders] is a romantic. He watches sunsets and looks at the stars and aches for something better. He muses that the moon he sees from his back steps is the same one that a Soc girl he admires can see from her patio on the other side of town. But as much as the sensitive, thoughtful Ponyboy resembles Holden, his milieu is irrevocably different. All around him are hostility and fear, along with distrust for the "system." As the story ends he sees a buddy shot down by the police under a street light. It was too late for him, but was it too late to tell other boys who are mean and tough and hate the world that there is still good in it—and would they believe you? (p. 201)
Admittedly, this is not on all counts a remarkable book. The dialogue sometimes rings false, and the message may be a shade too profound to be mouthed by teen-aged "hoods." Still there is little of the pretentiousness here, the whining tone, that characterizes the first statements of youthful authors. (p. 202)
William Jay Jacobs, "Reaching the Unreached," in The Record, Vol. 69, No. 2, November, 1967, pp. 201-02.∗
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The only major flaw [in The Outsiders] is that the book is written with self-indulgence, and could profitably have been cut. Apart from this, even the over-didacticism of its first person narrative—it is as didactic as modern pop songs—comes off the page with such absorbed conviction, such persuasive truth and emotional power that one accepts it. The story has humour, passion, tenderness, intelligence, action a-plenty and, best of all, compassion.
A. Chambers, in a review of "The Outsiders," in Children's Book News, Vol. 5, No. 6, November-December, 1970, p. 280.
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Using the background and a sprinkling of the characters from her first book, The Outsiders, [in That Was Then, This Is Now S. E. Hinton] tensely builds up an atmosphere of violence, catalyzed constantly by the vicious cycle of justice which demanded that every score be personally settled by some means of retribution…. The scenes portrayed are sometimes ugly; the decisions forced on the characters are often motivated by basic survival needs, emotional as well as physical; and Bryon's final commitment to himself and to his future is harshly and realistically underlined in an ending that offers no pat promises. This is a disturbing book and perhaps in some senses a too contemporaneous one, but it will speak directly to a large number of teenagers and does have a place in the understanding of today's cultural problems. (p. 389)
Sheryl B. Andrews, in a review of "That Was Then, This Is Now," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, August, 1971, pp. 388-89.
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There are many similarities between this second book by S. E. Hinton ["That Was Then, This Is Now"] and her first, "The Outsiders." Both are powerful, realistic stories about being young and poor in a large Oklahoma city. But instead of a gang of rich kids spoiling for a fight, the antagonist in this more ambitious novel is time.
"That Was Then, This Is Now" attempts to show how time changes 16-year-old Bryon Douglas and his relationships with those he loves….
The phrase "if only" is perhaps the most bittersweet in the language, and Miss Hinton uses it skillfully to underline her theme: growth can be a dangerous process. As Bryon moves toward maturity he faces the dangers of the emotional vacuum that waits to be filled after loss of innocence. But "if only" is also a tricky device, encouraging an easy descent from pathos to bathos, and if there is fault to be found with "That Was Then, This Is Now" it is that at its end, when love and hate have run their course, all that is left to Bryon is not honest and believable grief but life-denying self-pity. Despite Bryon's difficult education in maturity, his central decisions … are made not intellectually but emotionally. It is unfortunate that Miss Hinton has indulged herself in this way, for otherwise she has written a mature, disciplined novel, which excites a response in the reader. Whatever its faults, her book will be hard to forget.
Michael Cart, in a review of "That Was Then, This Is Now," in The New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1971, p. 8.
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S. E. Hinton's That was Then, This is Now is a searing and terrible account of what life can be like for east-side youths in an American town—on the look out for easy money, for chicks, for drink, for the fast car to hot-wire and, sometimes, for hard drugs. This is a book which is both violent and tender, a book in which the hero, Bryon, grows from being a kid, when he "had all the answers", into a young manhood beset by questions. After a long search, he and his girl friend find her young brother high on LSD in a hippy house…. When Bryon gets home sickened by the realization that this child may never fully recover, he reaches under his buddy's mattress for a packet of fags—and finds phials of drugs instead. Should he betray his best friend who is quite obviously a pusher? In deciding painfully to call the police, Bryon gains, and loses, all. A starkly realistic book, a punch from the shoulder which leaves the reader considerably shaken.
"Punching from the Shoulder," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3634, October 22, 1971, p. 1318.∗
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[S. E. Hinton] was in her teens when she wrote The Outsiders …, a novel of violence and feuding between greasers and socialites. The book is technically remarkable for so young a writer; its background appears authentic; but true feeling is hopelessly entangled with false, bad-film sentimentality, and the plot is creakingly unbelievable. It may be noted that, just as slum children in novels by middle-class writers can easily be nice middle-class children under the skin, so the greasers in this book by 'a seventeen-year-old whose best friends are greasers' sometimes look like sheep in wolves' clothing. (p. 295)
John Rowe Townsend, "How Young Is an Adult?" in his Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature, revised edition, J. B. Lippincott, Publishers, 1974, pp. 291-300.∗
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As gut-wrenching as the "sneaky pete" her hero guzzles down, S. E. Hinton's latest novel [Rumble Fish] won't sit well with book selectors who demand that children's fiction end hopefully, if not happily. No hard-nosed punk, young Rusty-James rapidly loses everything meaningful to him—his girl, his "rep" as number one tough guy, and, most important, his idolized older brother…. Stylistically superb (the purposely flat, colorless narrative exactly describes Rusty-James' turf of pool halls, porno movie houses, and seedy hang-outs), this packs a punch that will leave readers of any age reeling.
Jane Abramson, in a review of "Rumble Fish," in School Library Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, October, 1975, p. 106.
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The dialogue and [Rusty-James's] monologue [in Rumble Fish] are vibrant and authentic, and the narrative moves quickly and dramatically from one event to another. But essentially the material of the book remains undeveloped, and the commentary glib and superficial…. By her third book, the outcome for S. E. Hinton appears to be unpromising; her writing has the same style and the same perception as it had when she was seventeen. Instead of becoming a vehicle for growth and development, the book, unfortunately, simply echoes what came before. She is no longer a teenager writing about teenagers today, and the book raises the question whether, as an adult, she will ever have much of importance to say to young readers. (pp. 601-02)
Anita Silvey, in a review of "Rumble Fish," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LI, No. 6, December, 1975, pp. 601-02.
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[In "Rumble Fish"] Rusty-James longs to live up to the reputation of his older brother, referred to only as the Motorcycle Boy. Rusty-James is on a macho trip at his junior high school, where he wants to be the toughest cat around since his brother was expelled. Rusty's father drinks, his mother has disappeared, his best friend is decent enough but too weak to exert any influence. When the Motorcycle Boy comes back to town, Rusty follows his idol one step too far. The fall is shattering for them both.
"Rumble Fish" … makes its bleak points tellingly enough, despite a curiously remote quality. Much of the latter, I think, stems from that Motorcycle Boy, who clanks through the story like a symbol never quite made flesh.
Robert Berkvist, in a review of "Rumble Fish," in The New York Times Book Review, December 14, 1975, p. 8.
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Rumble Fish belongs, essentially, to one of the established forms of children's books, the animal story, in which the child is given the opportunity of living in the skin of the grizzly bear or the wild horse. The experiences of the animal are felt by the child, though in a different way from that in which the animal feels them. So in Rumble Fish the boy's emulation of his older brother, his alienation from his father, his rejection of school and authority—the things many children feel—are projected onto the terrible dangerous animals who live in the concrete jungle. They are sufficiently distanced for the child to identify with them without being overwhelmed. This is a story about an alien way of life, just as the animal stories are, and like most of them it falls into the trap of sentimentalising its subject. But it is an improvement on S. E. Hinton's earlier books, better constructed and more restrained. I think it is an Action Man; a dolly, in spite of its combat gear and fierce armoury of weapons.
Dorothy Nimmo, in a review of "Rumble Fish," in The School Librarian, Vol. 24, No. 4, December, 1976, p. 335.
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[In Rumblefish, Hinton's] portrayal of men and women is decidedly sexist. The machismo creed is heavily reinforced by Rusty James' refusal to cry, his need to keep up a tough-hood front, his faith that his strong hands are more valuable than a good mind. Girlfriend Patty is jealous and manipulative, turning her tears on and off at will. Girls are classified as "good," cheapies to mess around with, pretty possessions, housewives or runaway mothers.
Behind a colorful and action-packed facade, Ms. Hinton promotes negative images and values. (pp. 215-16)
"Rumble Fish," in Human—And Anti-Human—Values in Children's Books: A Content Rating Instrument for Educators and Concerned Parents, edited by the Council on Interracial Books for Children, Inc., Racism and Sexism Resource Center for Educators, 1976, pp. 215-16.
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"Tex" is a tale of coping with and surviving the trials and uncertainties of adolescence. Tex himself faces odds, to be sure: His father is a rodeo cowboy who's rarely around, and Tex and his older brother Mason must make do for themselves; he's got troubles at school and scuffles with his friends. Worse, though, he and Mason have problems that won't go away: In Tex's view, Mason is bossy and mean; moreover, he's sold their horses, in order to keep them going and the animals from starving.
Problems abound, in other words, and those aren't the only ones the author places on Tex's shoulders. He and Mason are held up and kidnapped by a hitchhiker (though clever Tex extricates them from the predicament); girl friend Jamie alternately asks for and rejects sex; there's a question about Tex's true parentage; at the end, Tex has a shoot-out with a drug pusher.
There's too much going on here. Even by the standards of today's fiction, S. E. Hinton's vision of contemporary teenage life is riper than warrants belief.
Nevertheless, there are good things. The scene, the American Southwest, is rendered keenly. Mason, the older brother, is more than he seems to Tex, and Miss Hinton permits us to see it. The bewilderments of adolescence are often painfully caught. Yet "Tex" smacks, somehow, of Snoopy's "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," busier and more melodramatic than the real life it purports to show. Perhaps it's like this these days, but "Tex" makes the case unconvincingly.
Paxton Davis, in a review of "Tex," in The New York Times Book Review, December 16, 1979, p. 23.
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Susan Hinton's attention has always been directed towards the crucial, changing relationships of adolescence but in the thirteen years since the first publication of The Outsiders, when the young author was writing to some extent from her own experience, she has taken a larger canvas on which to group more varied characters. Tex has a wider spread than her earlier books, first and most obviously in the geographical sense, because her setting here is Californian farmland rather than city streets. This is something more than just an extended background. The tensions between Tex McCormick, who is fifteen, and his protective older brother Mason, are no less urgent and claustrophobic than those operating in the urban gangs of the earlier books, but they have an added force because of the isolation of the brothers in the dusty roads and paddocks where Tex rides his horse and his motor-bike, where the two of them wait for their restless father to return…. [Frustration] and anxiety drive [Mason] to illness, and in practical terms to the desperate measure of selling the horses, an action which brings to a head Tex's growing need to assert himself, to deny Mason's anxious control and claim his own identity.
Tex is a true survivor. Accepting insecurity and domestic hardship, this rough, explosive boy has an unexpected contentment which the author has brilliantly conveyed through his reactions to the important and the minor crises of his fifteenth summer and autumn. (p. 3686)
Susan Hinton has shown in this book that first-person narrative can work. Tex's manner—blunt, colloquial, exploratory and openly egotistical—suits the setting and builds up the boy's character so that his view of his peers and of the adults who affect his life seems natural and inevitable…. In soliloquy, in reported dialogue, in the plain account of day after day, Tex has opened his character to the reader together with a view of a landscape, a house, a city and a group of friends, neighbours, associates. Phrases and sentences seemingly casual and unstudied have been carefully devised to carry clues to personality and event in a totally natural way…. In this new book Susan Hinton has achieved that illusion of reality which any fiction writer aspires to and which few ever completely achieve. (pp. 3686-87)
Margery Fisher, in a review of "Tex," in her Growing Point, Vol. 19, No. 1, May, 1980, pp. 3686-87.
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[S. E. Hinton], it seems to me, gets right to the heart of how and why people behave towards one another, in this case two teenage brothers in rural Oklahoma…. Tex is the first of her books that I've read, but it certainly won't be the last…. [It's] a brilliant study of a fraternal relationship: moving, powerful, funny, and entirely convincing. It's odd, really, that the novel works so well when so many of the elements in the story are highly theatrical. The young narrator-hero, among other things, is kidnapped by a deranged gunman, is shot by a desperate junkie, and discovers that he isn't really his father's son. Each of these events would have sufficed for a novel on its own and it takes some courage to pack them all into one book. But a writer as good as Hinton can carry it off effortlessly; one believes implicitly in the characters and cares what happens to them.
Lance Salway, in an extract from "Book Post," in Signal, No. 32, May, 1980, p. 121.
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Some writers—Susan Hinton for example—have turned the [peer] group …, its interactions and meanings, into the subject matter of a novel. Hinton's teenage groups grow up too fast, leading grim lives on the wrong side of the law; they carry knives and guns and are no strangers to violence or murder…. [In The Outsiders toughness] is exaggerated and the beauties of friendship and kinship are sentimentalized by frequent repetition. There are also rather heavily delivered messages about young people, particularly the poor ones, being helplessly drawn into the inner-city whirlpool of violence and crime and missing the opportunity to discover the worthwhile things in life.
Theorists have acknowledged the role of social class in determining young people's behaviour and identity: adolescence is not merely a psychological or biological event, nor do all adolescents, as we once assumed, belong to a single subculture characterized chiefly by its opposition to adults and the status quo. There are differences among young people themselves, often as a direct result of their class origins. Hinton's novel does recognize such distinctions, but without examining them in any depth, using the stereotypes of working and middle class simply as justification for the hostility between the two gangs. In fact she proceeds to overthrow the significance of the class barrier by pointing to the futility of gang warfare and exposing the myths behind the stereotypes. The greasers, for example, imagine that the working class has a monopoly of life's problems, but Ponyboy is made to see that, while the socs have the edge financially, they experience their troubles too. The gang ideal itself begins to ring hollow: teenagers who break allegiance to their own gang in order to speak on equal terms with a member of the opposing force are shown to be the most admirable and mature. Ponyboy finds himself more flattered to be known by his own name than 'grease', the call name of the gang. Although appearance, dress and habits of speech, as well as emotional support and physical protection derive from the gang, family and closest friends are probably more important. (pp. 114-15)
Susan Thompson, "Images of Adolescence, Part II," in Signal, No. 35, May, 1981, pp. 108-25.∗