S.E. Hinton wrote: “Teenagers today want to read about teenagers today” and I agree. I also think teenagers today want to be treated like and spoken to like adults because many of them are in fact dealing with some pretty adult issues.
As grown-ups, we often look at teens more as older children than as young adults. We believe (or want to believe) that they haven’t seen or experienced certain things. Our attempt to completely shelter them is naïve because as Ponyboy says on page 40 of The Outsiders, “when you’re 13 in our neighborhood you know the score.” While they’re not yet fully grown, they think and feel similarly to adults.
Teens have profound and deeply rooted needs for independence, exploration, survival and success while they also want to be loved, supported, cared for and protected. But don’t we all need and want these things? These are not just “teen” needs they are human needs and not necessarily tied to age, gender, race or socio-economic status.
In Writing & Selling the YA Novel, K.L. Going writes: “Conflict makes for great stories, and although we wish it didn’t exist, it’s everywhere.” This week’s lecture states: “Instead of teenage lives filled with trivial concerns like dating and social etiquette, the characters in the Outsiders came face to face with violence, poverty, social stigma, and being forced into adult roles.”
In The Outsiders, Hinton captures the voice and real life needs of young adults, adds conflict and ties it all together to explore one of adolescent life’s biggest internal struggles: Standing out while fitting in. She respectfully tells a story in which teens from various backgrounds and home situations make their own difficult adult decisions and face the consequences of those decisions.
There are several important passages in which Hinton effectively approaches the thoughts and feelings of her audience. It was hard for me to pick just one passage so I picked a few.
Two which I feel kind of go together and give the mutual sentiment of wanting to belong are on page 29 when Ponyboy says, “Our one rule, besides Stick together, is don’t get caught” and on page 176 when Darry says, “We’re all we’ve got left. We ought to be able to stick together against everything. If we don’t have each other, we don’t have anything.” I think both passages are important because they speak to Ponyboy’s need to be loved and a part of something bigger than his individual self. Like Ponyboy, we learn as teens that whether love comes from family or friends isn’t important. The important part is that we are loved and that we belong. With all the challenges and new experiences of adolescence, the feeling of needing to belong is amplified.
The passage on pages 48 and 49 really pull all of this together. After lying down and looking up at the stars, Johnny and Ponyboy fall asleep. They wake up way past Ponyboy’s curfew and we get the sense that he’s going to be in big trouble but Johnny won’t be. This is when we learn “Johnny’s parents don’t care if he comes home or not.” When Ponyboy arrives home, his brothers are waiting up for him (though Soda nodded off) like they’re his parents. They even left the porch light on for him. Ponyboy gets in trouble but it’s clear that he’s loved and once he figures that out later in the novel then that love and sense of family overshadows everything else.
After reading the book, I called my nephew. He’s 15 and what you might call “street smart” but he also loves to read and he’d previously told me he read and loved this book. I asked him why. He said he can relate to Ponyboy and the Greasers because they’re going through what he’s going through. He also said something that needs to be understood about the book is the idea of following your gut instead of doing what others want you to do. He said it’s important to be a part of the group but that being your own person is also important. We talked about the rumble on page 127 and the bad feeling Ponyboy had leading up to it. He said that Ponyboy knew the difference between right and wrong but he couldn’t fight the urge to do the wrong thing since it felt like it was the right thing at the time because Ponyboy considered his friends his family.
SE Hinton did an outstanding job of writing a book that relates to teenagers of yesterday and today because she uses timeless conflicts and themes and never talks down to her audience. Teens are in fact “Young Adults” and the YA genre pays respect to that fact in its title. With adult themes and conflicts and so many important passages to support them in her novel The Outsiders, Hinton proves she respects young adults and she gives them a story they want to read.
Going, K.L. Writing & Selling the YA Novel. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books. 2008. Print.
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking, 1967. Print.