I find stories that have “bad guys” versus “good guys” simplistic and rather irritating. I generally try to avoid them. As a result, I read many books where the bad guy’s motive is moving and heartbreaking. Sometimes I read a book, hating the villain until the last chapter, just to read about their past and fall in love with them. In books like these, the line between the good and the bad blurs. I find myself wondering, Who is the hero? Who is the villain?
The Outsiders, a coming-of-age novel written by Susan Hinton, is the story of fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis. Ponyboy lives in what is supposed to be Tulsa, Oklahoma (although this is not stated in the book), where there are only two kinds of people: the penniless greasers (Ponyboy is one of these) and the wealthy Socs (short for Socials). But when one of Ponyboy’s greaser friends kills a Soc in self-defense, Ponyboy finds himself on the run. In the turmoil that ensues, Ponyboy struggles to find his place in the world.
Ponyboy Curtis is not a typical greaser. An orphan in an already troubled home, Ponyboy spends as much time as he can outside. He lives with his two older brothers, Darrel and Sodapop. Sodapop and Darrel both work in order to survive, and this often leads to strife and frustration. When the boys jump outside one day to join a fight, Ponyboy and the others describe themselves as menaces to society, hoodlums, and other names. But as Ponyboy begins to find out more about himself, he begins to doubt his self-assigned identity.
From the beginning of the book, greasers and Socs are portrayed as complete opposites of each other. But as the story progresses, this view of the dynamics between the Socs and the Greasers begins to show flaws. Greasers often have troubled pasts, and they end up living on the streets. As a result, greasers are fiercely loyal and aren’t scared of a fair fight, even though the Socs always win. But despite the Socs’ money and fancy cars, Ponyboy begins to see hurt, desperate boys standing where he thought monsters stood.
The Outsiders is an intense, thought-provoking story. With its relatable characters and heartbreaking situations, The Outsiders left me staring at the cover with questions swirling inside my head. Who was the villain in this story? I wondered. Or were they all heroes?
Young adult fiction, ages 13+
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