Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

It's hard to believe that I am reviewing a book I read over 25 years ago. This book was first published in 1967 (before I was even alive!) and I have to say that it really stands the test of time. I'm debating on this being the first read aloud I do this year with my grade 7's. There are a lot of great messages and themes that could be addressed through reading this together.
When I started reading this book, I was reminded why I loved it so much, but was worried that maybe kids wouldn't understand the world Hinton was describing. Set in 1965, Hinton tells the story of a 'gang' of boys from the wrong side of the tracks. These boys have had to grow up with violence, hatred and poverty. These greasers (called this because of the hair grease they used to slick their hair back) hate the 'socs'- the group of rich kids who live on the right side of the track. The tension and hatred between the two groups comes out in fights and 'jumping'- when a group of kids gang up on one or two other kids. The Outsiders is told from Ponyboy's perspective. He is the youngest boy in a gang of boys and he is the youngest of three brothers who are trying to hold it together after their parents died in a car crash. Like in any family, the boys fight and Ponyboy feels unwanted by his oldest brother. When Ponyboy and Johnny are jumped by some socs, they are forced to make a series of decisions that have great consequences, not just for the two of them, but for people on both sides of this class war.
What I love about this book is the message of how similar people really are. It doesn't matter if you are rich, poor, black or white- everyone has problems. Ponyboy learns this lesson the hard way, and watching him struggle to cope with his own life and the circumstances he is faced with is so fascinating. I know many kids are picking this book up which is why I wanted to reread it. Some kids would certainly need some guidance to understand some of the terms like 'greaser', 'soc', 'madras', but those words aren't really important to the story. They may help with the picture in your mind, but not understanding them certainly wouldn't hold someone back in understanding what they are reading. I think the best way to deal with this book would be to use it as a literature circle or whole group read aloud. The best part of that would be the opportunity to read her many other books

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