Looking Back at The Outsiders

Here’s the opening to an article in the New York Times, “Few books come steeped in an aura as rich as S. E. Hinton’s novel “The Outsiders,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. At a time when the average young-adult novel was, in Hinton’s characterization, “Mary Jane went to the prom,” “The Outsiders” shocked readers with its frank depictions of adolescents smoking, drinking and rumbling.” (I immediately started humming the sound track to West Side Story!)

I read the Outsiders in middle school, 13? 14? I remember thinking that it was the first time that my school reading was as cool as what I was reading at home. I’d devoured books as a kid, and up to that point school reading was childish and simple. The characters were happy go-lucky their problems light and quickly resolved at the end of 150 pages. The Outsiders offered something more. I wouldn’t call it scary, but it was the first time a “school book” was moving. I remember my class having trouble moving past the dated language, but at 13 and in the middle of the mountains, knife fights were dangerous and pretty damn cool. I’m still impressed when an author manages to use violence to move rather than shock.

The author reminded me that there was more to the Outsiders than just being “cool” to my 13 year old mind. The author list references that totally slipped past me Moby-Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Who knew?

I think YA has the potential to move us and shape us as readers. Writing for teens about teens in a real way has the power to shape what and how we read as adults. Long Live Young Adult Lit!


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