abstract profiles of main characters Byron and Mark

That Was Then, This Is Now

by S. E. Hinton

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That Was Then, This Is Now chronicles the experiences of Bryon, the first-person narrator, and Mark, his best friend and foil, as they grow up in a tough, low-income neighborhood during the turbulent 1960’s. Charlie’s Bar, where the novel’s flashback begins, provides the setting for much of the action, and Bryon’s frequent foreshadowing comments create a tone of expectation and foreboding. The opening chapter moves quickly to a scene of violence, as members of the bullying Shepard gang jump M&M. Bryon and Mark rescue him, but M&M’s victimization continues throughout the novel, reinforcing S. E. Hinton’s depiction of the lack of justice on the streets, as does the story told by hospital patient Mike Chambers, a white youth who is beaten by black toughs when a girl he tries to rescue falsely identifies him as an attacker. Bryon understands why Mike does not hate black people as a result of his beating, but Mark considers him “stupid” for trying to help.

Despite their bond, Bryon and Mark have distinctly different ethical systems; Mark is on probation for hot-wiring cars, yet he ironically steals the principal’s car each day in order to meet his probation officer. Talking his way out of that situation, Mark leads a seemingly charmed life; Bryon marvels at Mark’s ability to get away with anything and admires his lionlike beauty and daring resourcefulness. For example, when Bryon and Mark owe Charlie three dollars, and Bryon worries about paying the bill before Charlie beats it out of them, Mark conveniently picks three dollars from the pocket of one of M&M’s assailants. Mark rationalizes his actions, and, when Bryon’s mother is hospitalized, Mark brings home money that Bryon suspects is either stolen or poker winnings. Since they cannot live without it, however, Bryon asks no questions.

While Mark seeks quick, dangerous solutions to their financial crisis, Bryon gets a job at a supermarket bagging groceries and develops a serious relationship with M&M’s sister, Cathy. The divergent reactions of the boys to the increasing tension of their lives emphasize that people change. Bryon examines his decisions, often pondering the “what if” questions that are impossible to answer. Mark, on the other hand, does not want to consider difficult questions; his is a practical existence, and his decisions are based more on immediate need than on the ultimate outcome. Even Charlie’s death, which haunts Bryon throughout the entire novel, is dismissed by Mark as “just one of those things that happen.” Charlie dies because Mark and Bryon hustle two armed Texans who decide to take revenge, yet Mark feels no sense of responsibility or guilt.

Both Mark and Bryon end up in the hospital for stitches as a result of brutal beatings. Mark is hit in the head with a bottle at a school dance because a jealous Angela Shepard sends someone after Ponyboy Curtis (a character from Hinton’s 1967 novel The Outsiders); Bryon is badly beaten by the Shepard gang because he is blamed for Mark’s cruel prank against Angela (cutting her hair while she is drunk). In each case, the violence is senseless and mistaken, yet the injustice cannot be undone. Their different reactions to their experience, however, reflect the growing rift in the boys’ relationship: When Mark wants to retaliate against the Shepard gang for Bryon’s beating, Bryon makes him promise not to seek revenge. Bryon wants to break the “circle” of violence, but Mark feels frustrated by his inability to impose his own justice.

As Bryon’s relationship with Cathy intensifies, he spends less time with Mark, who continues to supply the household with more money than...

(This entire section contains 858 words.)

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could possibly be won or stolen. Mark becomes openly antagonistic toward Cathy, and she, too, does not hide her disapproval of him. When M&M runs away, Mark knows that he is hiding out at the hippie commune, but he does not tell Bryon until after the Shepard beating. When Bryon and Cathy go to the commune to bring M&M home, they find him in a delusional state, fearfully trapped in a nightmarish LSD reality.

Bryon and Cathy rush M&M to the hospital, but the cynical doctor offers little hope for a full recovery. Bryon’s love for Cathy and her family overwhelms his loyalty to Mark, and, when he discovers Mark’s stash of pills that same night, facing for the first time the truth about Mark’s drug-dealing activities, he panics. In his worry and anger over M&M’s bad trip, Bryon calls the police. Mark’s subsequent arrest destroys the bond of brotherhood and friendship that sustained the two, and both are miserable in the final outcome. At the end of the novel, Bryon has only questions and self-pity upon which to reflect: Cathy is seeing Ponyboy, and Mark is a hardened inmate of the state reformatory. Mark has become a “dangerous caged lion” who is unable to get away with anything, and Bryon is a straight-A student who longs to return to a simpler, idealized past.

Historical Context

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Vietnam and the Antiwar Movement
The 1960s and early 1970s were turbulent times, and the war in Vietnam did not help abate this tension. The conflict in Vietnam had actually begun in 1946, shortly after World War II ended. WWII had left many areas in Southeast Asia unstable, and over the next two decades, the United States quietly provided support to South Vietnam and those allied with the country, which was fighting against Ho Chi Minh’s Communist forces in North Vietnam. The United States, so fearful of the spread of Communism that it viewed the loss of Vietnam as the start of a “domino” effect in Southeast Asia, escalated its involvement in the area. In 1964, President Johnson asked Congress for support, after one United States destroyer—performing a covert operation—was attacked by North Vietnamese forces off the coast of North Vietnam and another was allegedly attacked. (Later, it was shown that the second destroyer had not been attacked.) Johnson, who assured Congress that the destroyers were on routine, overt missions, convinced Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which effectively gave Johnson unlimited power to escalate the Vietnam conflict. At this point, most Americans were unaware of these happenings.

By 1965, when fifty thousand new United States ground troops were added to the twentythree thousand already stationed in Vietnam—posing as military “advisors”—the American public was more educated—much to the government’s dismay. As James S. Olsen and Randy Roberts noted in their 1996 book, Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945–1995, “The decision to Americanize and militarize the conflict in Vietnam jump-started the antiwar movement in the United States.” Olsen and Roberts note that in 1965 alone, “more than thirty other antiwar organizations sprouted,” joining the existing groups. Much of the resentment came from the numbers of American troops required to feed the war machine. As J. M. Roberts notes in his Twentieth Century: The History of the World, 1901 to 2000, “In 1968 there were over half a million American servicemen in Vietnam.”

In order to meet these numbers, the United States government relied on the Selective Service System to “draft” young American men into the war. In That Was Then, This Is Now, Bryon notes the affect that draft notices had on many Americans, when he returns Charlie’s car to him after the dance and tries to talk to him: “He didn’t seem too interested, but he was having his own troubles. He’d got his draft notice.” Although Charlie is ultimately saved from being drafted because of his police record, many others were not and showed their protest against the war by burning their draft notices, staging public demonstrations, or fleeing the country, usually to Canada. By the time the United States government admitted defeat and began to withdraw its forces in 1973, the war had claimed the lives of fifty-eight thousand American men.

Hippies and Drugs
During the war, as the casualties rose, those involved in the antiwar, counterculture movement reacted in different ways, some violent, some not. One of the most enduring images from the era is that of the “hippie,” derived from the word, “hip,” meaning somebody who is trendy. Unlike some of the more militant antiwar groups, hippies believed in freedom, peace, and love, a philosophy that was often expressed through nature imagery such as the flower. In fact, a famous example of this “flower power,” as David Steigerwald cited in his The Sixties and the End of Modern America, was during the hippies’ march on the Pentagon in 1967: “Protesters sang to the troops, called for them to ‘join us!,’ and stuck flowers in gun barrels.” However, while Steigerwald notes that hippies staged their protests using these and other nonviolent methods, such as creating a line of people by “locking arms and sitting down,” he also notes that their opponents did not always reciprocate. The same Pentagon demonstration is a good example: “The marshalls . . . . made a serious assault, dragging protesters out of their lines and beating them with billy clubs.” In That Was Then, This Is Now, Bryon, a “greaser” who loves to pick fights, notes his own reaction when he and Mark jump their first hippie: “I hadn’t realized those guys refuse to fight back, and what happened to the one we got hold of, it made me sick. . . . after that we left them alone.”

In addition to their nonviolent demeanor, hippies, like M&M in the story, were also characterized by their long hair and deliberately shabby clothes, in an attempt to embrace their freedom and rebel against the establishment. One of the other major ways in which hippies achieved these goals was through the use of recreational drugs. As Terry H. Anderson noted in his The Movement and the Sixties, “freaks,” another name for hippies, commonly used dope—marijuana and hallucinogens like LSD—to “expand sensory perception and ‘blow the mind.’” However, as Anderson notes, experienced hippies stayed away from drugs that led to a “bad trip.” In Hinton’s story, M&M earns the nickname “Baby Freak” because he is so much younger than the other hippies. Also, when M&M takes some LSD, the pusher who gives it to him tells Bryon and Cathy that he is “on a bad trip.” Like M&M, whose brain is permanently damaged from the LSD, historian Martin Gilbert noted that the “‘drug culture,’” which gained influence in the early 1960s, poisoned “the minds of millions of people.”

The Civil Rights Movement and Racial Tension
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. Civil rights leaders like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X inspired African Americans to protest the discrimination and segregation they had experienced in the United States. In some cases, as with the hippies, blacks staged peaceful demonstrations. However, in the late 1960s, amid growing tensions between whites and blacks, racially motivated riots broke out in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Detroit.


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The story takes place in a rough, low income, east-side neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the mid- 1960s, an era of anti-war demonstrations and anti-establishment attitudes. In this neighborhood, streetwise Mark and Bryon, the two main characters, hustle pool in Charlie's Bar, drink, fight, and pick up girls. The toughs often consider the counterculture hippies easy targets for mugging, for the hippies do not fight back when attacked. Hinton evokes a sense of the setting less through explicit description than through repeated mention of places and people. The Ribbon is a cruising strip where kids can buy hot dogs or marijuana; the parking lot of the high school and the local bowling alley are teen-age meeting spots where violence often erupts; the hippie commune is a colorful but neglected and dirty place, where residents talk about love and take drugs. The setting of the novel adds realism and power to Hinton's work, although the problems that her characters confront could arise anywhere.

Literary Style

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The story is told in the first person viewpoint, from the perspective of Bryon Douglas, which is consistent with Hinton’s other teenage novels. By doing this, Hinton imbues her book with a deep sense of emotion. In the beginning, Bryon notes that “Mark was my best buddy and I loved him like a brother.” In the end, Bryon is emotionally dead and says, “I don’t even care about Mark. The guy who was my best friend doesn’t exist any longer, and I don’t want to think about the person who has taken his place.” Along the way, Bryon leads the reader through all of the ill-fated steps that led to this transformation. Had Hinton used a thirdperson narrator to tell Bryon’s story instead of letting Bryon tell it, the feeling for the character would not be as personal, and the shocking ending, where Bryon turns Mark in for dealing drugs, would not have as much impact.

While the ending has impact, the careful reader can pick up on a number of Bryon’s statements that foreshadow Mark’s drug dealing and his resulting feelings for Bryon when he is put away. The first of these happens after Bryon and Mark visit Mike Chambers in the hospital. Although Bryon sees how Mike could forgive his attackers, Mark says that he could never forgive anybody who hurt him that badly. In an offhand comment to the reader, Bryon responds to Mark’s comment by saying that, at the time, he did not think much of Mark’s statement, “later I would—I still do. I think about it and think about it until I think I’m going to go crazy.” Although most readers have not been given enough information to realize that Bryon is talking about Mark’s eventual hatred for him, readers are still left to wonder what happens in the future to make Bryon think so hard about this statement. Mark’s eventual career as a drug dealer is also foreshadowed. Later, when Bryon is trying to get a job, Mark tells him, “I’m goin’ to start bringin’ in some money,” and “I ain’t gonna sponge forever.”

Mark does not say how he is going to bring in money, but to Bryon, that is not as odd as why Mark said it. Up until this point, Bryon notes, Mark had “never said anything about being dependent on us.” Still, Bryon does not question him on it. Neither Bryon nor his mother question Mark when he starts “bringing in money . . . more than he ever had before.” Bryon tells the reader that at the time he had assumed that Mark was winning the money by playing poker, but Bryon also goes on at length about the issue in this passage, which signals the reader that the reality was different from what Bryon had thought at the time. Bryon draws attention to Mark’s income again later on, saying that Mark was “spending more and more time away from home” and that even Bryon’s mom, who normally does not pry into Mark or Bryon’s business, is “bugged about where he was getting the money.” Although Bryon “still figured he was doing some serious poker playing,” the way that Bryon sets this up leads the reader to believe that it is something more than that, a setup that pays off when Bryon finds the drugs and realizes “Mark was a pusher. That was where he was getting his money.”

Irony is the unique awareness that is produced when someone says something and means another, or when somebody does something, and the result is opposite of what was expected. In That Was Then, This Is Now, the irony is the latter: situational irony. In this case, Hinton employs the irony for tragic purposes. Out of his love for Cathy and concern for M&M, Bryon sacrifices Mark by turning him into the authorities. However, in a cruelly ironic twist, this act causes him to lose his love for Cathy: when she stops by the next day, he is cold to her, knowing that he is “hurting her,” but not caring. Bryon notices the change in himself even as he is saying the hurtful things, and he wonders “impersonally why I didn’t love her any more. But it didn’t seem to matter.” He also realizes that to him, M&M is “just some brother of hers in the hospital . . . not my friend, not somebody I too cared about.” In fact, Bryon realizes, “I don’t seem to care about anything any more. It’s like I am worn out with caring about people.” Although Bryon makes this realization calmly, it is devastating for the reader, who can still care and who feels the effects of Hinton’s tragically ironic tale.

Literary Qualities

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That Was Then, This Is Now is written as a first-person narrative. Because Bryon is retelling the story a year after it happened, Hinton is able to make especially effective use of the writing device called "foreshadowing." This technique gives the reader a sense of future turns in the novel, usually by hinting at a major idea or event. An early example of foreshadowing is found at the end of the second chapter. When referring to the boys who beat Mike, Mark says, "Man, if anybody ever hurt me like that I'd hate them for the rest of my life." Bryon, as narrator, picks up on this statement and lets the reader know it is significant: "I didn't think much about that statement then. But later I would—I still do. I think about it and think about it until I think I'm going crazy." A similar idea is echoed in chapter 3, when Bryon fears that Cathy may be interested in Mark. All of a sudden, and only for an instant, he hates Mark. Commenting on this reaction, Bryon wonders what it would be like to be haunted by feelings of antagonism for the rest of his life. Bryon's early resentment of Mark foreshadows Mark's eventual hatred of Bryon, which Bryon fears will last for the rest of Mark's life. In the epilogue Bryon claims to feel nothing, but his earlier statement leads the reader to suspect that he feels more than he will admit.

Hinton's foreshadowing technique affects the book's tone, making it somewhat foreboding because of the reader's sense that something unpleasant is coming. The violence that permeates the characters' lives also creates a mood of suspense and wariness. This combination of foreshadowing and violence creates a powerful and lasting sense of despair.

Hinton manages to convey realistic conversation without using overly offensive language. Although most teenagers from Bryon's neighborhood would use more vulgarity than is found in Hinton's book, the lack of absolute realism does not detract from the overall sense of place and character. The only language-related misunderstandings that might arise stem from Hinton's use of outdated terms. She uses the words "Negro" and "chick," neither of which was considered derogatory during the hippie era. Other examples of 1960s jargon—"flower-child," "free love," "Peace!" and "Cat"—help to create a sense of the period.

Social Sensitivity

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That Was Then, This Is Now is concerned more with questions of personal morality and ethics than it is with social problems. Nevertheless, social issues do arise. One of the more troubling aspects of the boys' personalities is racism. When a bored Mark sees a black man standing alone, he asks Bryon if he wants to jump the stranger. M&M intervenes and points out the hypocrisy in their actions: they saved M&M from being jumped because he was different, a hippie, but now they want to attack someone on the basis of race. Bryon feels ashamed when he thinks about the truth in M&M's statement, but this will not redeem him in most readers' eyes. Parents or teachers may want to discuss the problem of racist attitudes in the book, perhaps in connection with Mike's story and in Bryon's and Mark's reactions to that incident.

Two other sensitive issues raised in the book are drug abuse and violence among teenagers. Many students who casually read Hinton's account of a bad acid trip may need to have reinforced the dangerous consequences of hallucinogenic drug experiences. Bryon and Mark also drink excessively, although they do not perceive this habit as drug abuse.

Perhaps the most disturbing problem, a result largely of environmental pressure, is the extreme level of violence to which the boys are accustomed. Fighting is entertainment for Bryon and Mark. Hinton attempts to address the issue of violence by recounting several disturbing incidents—such as M&M's mugging, Mike's beating, and, later, Bryon's experience with the Shepards— and then depicting various characters' reactions to this violence.

Compare and Contrast

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1960s–1970s: The United States significantly escalates its military involvement in Vietnam, prompting the government to “draft” its young men to fight and igniting the antiwar movement. Many young Americans enroll in college—the only legal way to avoid being drafted—stage protests, burn their draft cards, and even flee to other countries to avoid having to fight in the war.

Today: After an unexpected attack on the Pentagon in Washington and the World Trade Center in New York City, the United States engages in a full-scale, international war on terrorism. The American public rallies to support this decision, and the military experiences a surge in its ranks as patriotic young men and women enlist to help wage the war.

1960s–1970s: Many hippies and other members of the counterculture movement—who are often in their twenties or younger—experiment with “recreational” drugs to expand their minds and rebel against the establishment. For some people, these drug experiments backfire and cause permanent brain damage or other side effects that limit the person’s ability to function in society.

Today: America’s public service organizations help to fight the war on drugs through influential advertisements that depict drugs as a barrier to success. These ads are aimed mainly at young children and teenagers, the primary target of many drug pushers.

1960s–1970s: The peace symbol, tie-dyed shirts, and other wild developments in fashion become symbols for hippies, who use their unconventional clothes as one of many ways to express their desire to rebel against the establishment. Today: Many teens who want to appear trendy wear “retro” clothes and jewelry from the 1960s and 1970s, although they do not necessarily follow the hippie way of life. In addition, these clothes are often produced by large corporations, which are part of the establishment that the hippies were rebelling against.

Media Adaptations

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That Was Then, This Is Now was adapted as a film in 1985, directed by Christopher Cain, written by Emilio Estevez, and starring Craig Sheffer as Bryon, Estevez as Mark, Kim Delaney as Cathy, and Morgan Freeman as Charlie. Hinton assisted with the production of the film, which is available on video from Paramount Home Video.

For Further Reference

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Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 19. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. Contains a good bit of autobiographical information, as well as some critical analysis of Hinton's work.

De Montreville, Doris, and Elizabeth D. Crawford, eds. Fourth Book of Junior Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1978. An excellent source for autobiographical information. Contains an analysis of Hinton's career up to 1978, and lists the awards she has received.

Hinton, S. E. "Face to Face with a Teenage Novelist." Seventeen (October 1967): 133. Hinton talks about herself and her writing. Parts of this article are reprinted in Commire.

"TeenAgers Are for Real." New York Times Book Review (August 27, 1967): 26-29. More Hinton on Hinton, and on young adult literature as well.

Kirkpatrick, D. L. ed. Twentieth-Centwy Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's, 1978. Contains an overview of Hinton's writing career to 1978, with analysis of her themes and characters.

Locher, Frances Carol, ed. Contemporary Authors. Vols. 81-84. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. Contains a brief overview of Hinton's work.

Robin, Lisa. "The Young and the Restless." Media and Methods (May/June 1982): 28, 45. Focuses on Tex. Includes a teacher's guide to The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now, Rumble Fish, and Tex that offers many useful discussion questions.

Senick, Gerard J., ed. Children's Literature Review. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research, 1978. Contains commentary by Hinton and excerpts from various pieces of criticism of Hinton's works.

Stine, Jean C., and Daniel G. Marowski, eds. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 30. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Provides excerpts from criticism of Hinton's works.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Anderson, Terry H., “Hippies and Drugs,” in The 1960s, edited by William Dudley, Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000, pp. 200–01, originally published in The Movement and the Sixties, Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 259–60.

Andrews, Sheryl B., Review of That Was Then, This Is Now, in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, August 1971, pp. 388–89.

Cart, Michael, Review of That Was Then, This Is Now, in New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1971, p. 8. Daly, Jay, Presenting S. E. Hinton Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 41–43, 46–47.

Gilbert, Martin, A History of the Twentieth Century, Vol. 3, 1952–1999, Perennial, 2000, p. 307.

Hinton, S. E., “S. E. Hinton,” in Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults, edited by Donald R. Gallo, 1990, p. 95.

–, That Was Then, This Is Now, Laurel Leaf Books, 1985.

Lyons, Gene, “On Tulsa’s Mean Streets,” in Newsweek, Vol. 100, No. 15, October 11, 1982, pp. 105–06.

Malone, Michael, “Tough Puppies,” in Nation, Vol. 242, No. 9, March 8, 1986, pp. 276–78, 290.

McMurtry, Larry, The Last Picture Show, Dial Press, 1966.

Olson, James S., and Randy Roberts, “Johnson’s Escalation and the Antiwar Movement,” in The 1960s, edited by William Dudley, Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000, pp. 110–11, originally published in Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945–1995, St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Review of That Was Then, This Is Now, in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3634, October 22, 1971, p. 1318.

Roberts, J. M., Twentieth Century: The History of the World, 1901 to 2000, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 673.

Steigerwald, David, “The Antiwar Movement,” in The Sixties and the End of Modern America, St. Martin’s Press, 1995, originally published in The 1960s, edited by William Dudley, Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000, pp. 138–39.

Further Reading
Baum, Dan, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, Little, Brown & Company, 1997. This retrospective look at the United States’ war on drugs deviates from other books in this genre, which tend to use anecdotes to depict the government as deliberate participants in the spread of drugs. Instead, Baum, a journalist, provides balanced criticism about why the war on drugs has failed, using facts to back up his assertions.

Burkett, B. G., Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History, Verity Press, 1998. Burkett, a Vietnam veteran and reporter, was featured on the newsmagazine show 20/20 for this unflinching look at the ways in which Vietnam veterans have been misunderstood, in part due to the actions of some who have tarnished the image of this generation. Exhaustively researched, the book helps to set the record straight about a very painful time in American history.

Marshall, Joseph E., and Lonnie Wheeler, Street Soldier: One Man’s Struggle to Save a Generation, One Life at a Time, VisionLines Publishing, 2000. About the time Hinton was writing The Outsiders, Marshall was starting his career teaching in a poor section of San Francisco, where young people often faced the issues Hinton wrote about. Two decades later, with the introduction of guns and drugs like crack into the schools, the situation worsened, and Marshall took action. This book details the inspiring story of how he started the Omega Boys Club and began to reach a group of troubled black teens from the ghetto, helping many of them get on track and go to college.

Miller, Timothy, The Hippies and American Values, University of Tennessee Press, 1991. Miller’s information-packed book goes a long way towards setting the record straight about the main beliefs that hippies and the counterculture maintained and demonstrates the massive impact that hippies have had on American culture since the 1960s. The book features a bibliography of well-known and obscure underground newspapers, trivia facts, such as when the first Earth Day took place, and pictures of rock groups and posters.


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Daly, Jay. Presenting S. E. Hinton. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today’s Young Adults. 3d ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1989.

Mills, Randall K. “The Novels of S. E. Hinton: Springboard to Personal Growth for Adolescents.” Adolescence 22 (Fall, 1987): 641-646.

Stanek, Lou Willett. A Teacher’s Guide to the Paperback Editions of the Novels of S. E. Hinton. New York: Dell, 1975.




Critical Essays