That Was Then, This Is Now belongs to a class of books known as young adult novels. However, in 1971 when the book was published, this field was completely different. In fact, Hinton herself helped to inaugurate the new tone of the field with her immensely successful young adult novel The Outsiders (1967), which was published when Hinton was a teenager herself. As she noted in Speaking for Ourselves, the lack of books for young adults in the 1960s was disconcerting: “If you were through with the horse books and not ready for adult books there wasn’t much to read except Mary Jane Goes to the Prom, and I couldn’t stand to read that stuff.” Hinton thought that other teenagers, like herself, might want to read about books that dealt with real issues.
This was especially true, since some teenagers had for years been reading controversial adult books like Catcher in the Rye (1951), a fact that in turn helped to invoke the ire of self-imposed censors. Unfortunately, Hinton’s tendency to discuss realistic themes in her young adult novels has also landed books like That Was Then, This Is Now— with its overt violence and drug references—on censored book lists.
Fortunately, the book has fared better in the reviews. Published four years after The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now was a relief for Hinton, who had suffered from a huge case of writer’s block since she had published her first novel. As Jay Daly noted in Presenting S. E. Hinton, “the cycle was broken at last upon the insistence of her boyfriend (and husband-to-be), David Inhofe,” who was a student with her at the University of Tulsa. Reviewers were delighted at the new book, having waited eagerly for another Hinton book for five years. An overwhelming majority of reviewers noted the similarities to the The Outsiders, such as Michael Cart of New York Times Book Review, who called both books “powerful, realistic stories about being young and poor.” Others remarked on the graphic themes of the book, such as Sheryl B. Andrews, who called it “a disturbing book” that “will speak directly to a large number of teenagers” and that “does have a place in the understanding of today’s cultural problems.” On a similar note, Times Literary Supplement called the book both “violent and tender,” “a punch from the shoulder which leaves the reader considerably shaken.”
However, not everybody adored the book, and as Hinton has published more books, some critics have gotten more vocal. In his 1986 essay, “Tough Puppies,” The Nation’s Michael Malone criticized the idea many popular and critical reviewers have that Hinton’s...
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