Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

All of S. E. Hinton’s novels deal with young male protagonists struggling with a coming-of-age crisis in world populated by teenagers who are trying to survive without effective adult guidance. In The Outsiders (1967), she depicts a world of street violence and brutality. This novel broke new ground for young adult literature and paved the way for authors such as Paul Zindel, Paula Danziger, Richard Peck, and Robert Cormier. Rumble Fish (1975) has an even darker vision, incorporating themes of betrayal. In That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Hinton explores the world of drug abuse and a protagonist struggling with an ethical crisis caused by his friend’s involvement in drug dealing. Taming the Star Runner (1988) deals with many of the same issues as the previous novels but is written with special subtlety, prominently featuring horses (of which the author is especially fond) and a young novelist. Her novels often depict adults as, at best, uninvolved and, at worst, cruel to adolescents. Because her young protagonists are sympathetic, their casual involvement in violent criminal activity is often disturbing. Despite her treatment of grim subjects, Hinton’s novels are always grounded in a strong sense of right and wrong, and they often illustrate how difficult it may be to do the right thing.