So this book review is going to be a little different, as it is my first book featured in my Facebook Butterfly Child book group. So I am going to share my insight, and review of it first and then once I have had a nice chat with my fellow readers, I will update with more opinions.
I have always considered The Outsiders one of my favourites books, but I haven’t read it since I was at school. I had a very romanticised, teenaged view of the book and I wasn’t sure if this would stand up to my now adult (I was going to say grown up but that’s not accurate! 😂) viewpoint. I was a little worried going in, as I have realised that my view of things have changed since I have gotten older and have my own children; for instance I can now quite understand King Tritons anxiety in The Little Mermaid!
However, I didn’t need to be so worried. As soon as I started reading I instantly remembered why I love this book! It draws you in from the first line, for a short book the character development is incredible and I for one feel like I really got drawn into the story and taken a long for the ride.
Normally I try to avoid spoilers but in this instant, I will be giving a brief synopsis on the book, so if you want to read it for yourself please look away now!
The Outsiders is written from the perspective of one of the main characters Ponyboy, and yes as he points out early on, this is his real name as on his birth certificate. To be fair to him, he also has a brother called Sodapop. We learnt early on they have lost their parents; but I think I would have loved them.
Greaser: The greasers were poorer than the Socs or the Middle Class. They were wilder, too. When a Soc or Middle Class person saw a greaser, they immediately thought dirty troublemaker. If you actually got to meet them they were nice, kind, caring people. They loved to hang out in gangs, but their kinds of gangs were a group of friends. Their gangs were like their families.
Ponyboy is a Greaser – a generic term for a boy with longer hair, greased back, a bit rough and rugged and probably but always the case, not so highly educated. Greasers were from the East Side of town, the poorer communities. Ponyboy ticks a lot of these boxes, and he is part of a gang of greasers, although as you read it, you realise this little gang is more than that, they are a family and Ponyboy is not a normal greaser. He is actually really smart but doesn’t always use his head. Where a lot of the other boys, use their head to navigate life but didn’t do so well in school. The main crux or theme running through the story is this idea that we can all be labelled based on one small thing and it define us, but really we are just people and we all have our individual nature. Ponyboy is actually really smart, does well in school and doesn’t agree with quite a lot of the activities some of his friends partake in. The opposite side to this coin, is the “soc”.
The Socs were the rich kids. They lived on the West Side. The Socs were always getting drunk and looking for fights with greasers. The Greasers always thought that the Socs had it better than them, but they find out that the Socs are cool to the point of not feeling anything.
The higher society middle to upper class teenagers who look like they have everything, money, the good clothes, the better reputation. But who also cause quite a lot of mayhem and are not always good/ bad guys but get away with a lot more because of the society they live in. But as with the Greasers, not all Socs’ are inherently bad, some even have tough lives. Again coming back to this main theme running through the book is that life isn’t always fair for anyone, and we all have our crosses to bear. Everyone at some point will feel like an Outsider, won’t know where or how to fit in, and we will all have moments where we think our life isn’t fair, but as this novel so aptly points out, this is all a matter of perspective. Life is never black and white, we all actually live in the grey areas, but when we feel lonely, sad, out of our depths; we see everything in extremes. The Outsiders is written to show the extremes of this outsider perspective but it does so, in such a way that we can all relate, even in our own mundane lives.
The first part of the book is establishing the characters, looks, personality and a quick view into the world they live in. Fighting and being jumped are par for the course, skipping school, stealing and carrying weapons seems to be the norm for most of the greasers. But the main story arc is based on Ponyboy and poor sweet Johnny; taken from Ponyboys perspective over two weeks of their lives; they get into trouble with a pack of Socs’ and end up on the run with the help of Dally. Ponyboy initially doesn’t realise the consequences, and I think this is his age, as even though Johnny seems quite young, he has lived in a not a perfect world and understand things a little better. He may not be as educated “smart” as Ponyboy but he sees the world, and has a lot of street smarts, and he often understands things Ponyboy cannot get his head around. I think its important to understand Johnny has some really bad parents and does not have a good life, and even though Ponyboy has lost his parents, he has two brothers who would give anything for Ponyboy, and he doesn’t realise this, but Johnny does. Johnnys understanding of the world is what makes his final, sad statement to Ponyboy so poignant, even though he has a terrible home life, he had an amazing family in the shape of his friends and he wanted his last words to be words of wisdom to Ponyboy, to show him that he doesn’t need to grow up, he doesn’t need to act like the others, he should stay young and live how he wants to and to appreciate the family his has. Even though he is scared of dying, his last thought is that of Ponyboy, and the others carrying on living and making a difference, he just wants Ponyboy to stay gold, and I think that is beautiful.
If you haven’t realised already, this is a book written by a teenager from a teenagers perpesctive, in a very teenager based world, adults are almost not mentioned, and the odd ones that are (other than Ponyboy parents) are talked about in a very negative light. But the emotion and the understanding we take from this book are universal. Back when I first read it, this was quite unique, and really gave you a sense that this person understood the teenage angst, worry and issues. As a grown up, I still feel like this. We all often feel judged or labelled and I think this book is still relevant, to teenagers and grown ups alike. Obviously without the drama of the deaths and the outright fighting, but I think sometimes its so easy to lose that perspective that at the end of the day we all do watch the same sunset and we all have our own and often the same worries. Even though times have changed, and some of the issues may not seem relevant, it is the underlying feelings, emotions and currents running below the surface which keep it relevant to today.
The book gets a bit of stick, for the portrayal of some characters, saying Johnny and Pony-boy talking about Literacy and Poetry doesn’t really reflect young people back then, but I think people who say this, missed the point of the story. The point is not to judge everyone, not to label people and that we all often see what we want to see or have been taught to see. There probably are teenagers or have been teenagers, who just want to read, and probably know a lot of poetry, they just probably wouldn’t have talked about it with others. Even in todays modern society, plenty of people still feel like this. Still feel labelled or marked, and we should act in a certain way, or do things in a particular way, and a huge majority of people still feel like they are lesser, or are treated differently or that feel like they are an outsider. This book should be a reminder, that we are all the same, all equals in the sense that we all live on this planet, and that we should get to be who we want to be, do what we want to do and that yes at some point we all will feel like Outsiders, but that won’t always be the case. Don’t label each other, of if you feel the need to label things, let us pick our own and live how we want to.
I think we can all appreciate all the characters, and so I don’t think I could name favourite. I think it would be like if you asked me to pick my favourite book or movie, I would keep chasing my mind as i discovered something different i lived about them all.
For me, again it is all about the characters. I know it is quite a large cast with all different names and personality, but I think it works well in this book. The whole group (family) they have made, all need each other to survive. I think if you took even one character away the dynamic would shift and it wouldn’t be the same story.
I always give my reviews stars out of five, as this is one of my favourites I would obviously give it 5, so before my final word here are its five stars!!
My favourite line will always be the first and last line of the book. As soon as I read that line, I snuggle up and get ready for a sad, poignant yet thrilling ride with Ponyboy, Johnny, Dally, Sodapop, Darry and the rest of the gang. So I leave it as my final words, in hopes that maybe you will want to follow suit and pick it up to have a read…
“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”