The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

(Cover picture courtesy of The Oubliette.)

Ponyboy can count on his brothers.  And on his friends.  But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up “greasers” like Ponyboy.  At least he knows what to expect—until the night someone takes things too far.

Warning: I am about to criticize another classic novel.  But before you begin writing your hate mail, at least hear me out.

S. E. Hinton was sixteen when she wrote most of the novel and the quality of writing reflects her inexperience.  I mean, sixteen is young no matter how you look at it and most sixteen-year-olds are barely mature enough to shut up and pay attention in school, let alone write a novel.  I truly admire her for writing and publishing a novel so young, but The Outsiders is a poorly written novel.  Hinton did not have the maturity to write as well as she would have if she wrote it as an adult.  If only John Scalzi’s advice to teenage writers had been around at the time…

Ponyboy feels like a girl to me.  When I say this, I mean I can tell his first person point of view was written by a woman.  Some women writers like Mira Grant can change their voices very well (see Deadline), but Hinton could not pull it off.  Yes, I know Ponyboy is supposed to be sensitive, but there is a fine line between sensitive and obviously written by a woman.

The plot of The Outsiders isn’t bad, but it’s not great either.  Nowadays it would be considered cliché (the class warfare between the socs and the greasers), but one has to take into account when it was written.  In 1967, this wasn’t cliché; it was reality.  As for the characters…meh.  They’re not really terrible, but none of them are memorable, despite their weird names.  Ponyboy?  Sodapop?  Give me a break.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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  1. timeoftheday

    I’ve not read this book, but this review is funny. XD I know exactly what you mean when you say “written by a woman”. lol

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  3. Andrew

    Who cares if its written by a girl and at that age. OK it might not be a book that will be counted as a classic but then a lot of books that are critically acclaimed are absolutely boring. I don’t agree with your review. You haven’t even gone into the content of the book so your review is weak. Who says a guy can’t be sensitive and still be masculine? The outsiders is a great book, in fact my favourite book and I’m a guy! I guess you are a critic rather than a book reviewer!

    • Carrie Slager

      Andrew, I would not care if it was written by a 16 year old girl if it didn’t feel like it was. What I was saying is that, to me at least, it felt like Ponyboy was a girl. I have absolutely no problem with sensitive men; I have given good reviews to books where the male protagonists are very emotional. However, it was not just the main character I had a problem with. I had huge problems with the plot and Hinton’s ‘voice’. The descriptions were not exactly great and it felt like wish fulfillment on the part of the author when she described all of the greasers because they all seemed to be inhumanly gorgeous. The plot was not well-paced and I personally did not buy into all of the big ‘suspense’ she was trying to create. Even not taking into account the lack of suspense, some of her side plots did not go anywhere. What happened to the police investigation into Bob’s murder? We are informed by Two-Bit that Johnny will be charged with manslaughter, but why didn’t the police question Ponyboy himself, who was present at the incident? That sounds like Hinton either had a poor understanding of police investigations or the police in question were very incompetent.

      That brings me to my second point: you obviously have not read my Commenting Policy, which you should if you want to reply to this comment. Contrary to popular belief on the internet, it is possible to disagree with someone respectfully. There is no need to call names. And when one is criticizing a book reviewer for not going into the content of the book, one should also go into the content of the book to prove their point, should they not?

  4. Andrew

    Maybe I should have worded the last line better. So fair enough about that and sorry for that too! I was going to go into the content of the book but there is something wrong with my curser on my laptop so I sent it too early twice! I still thought your review was missing actual reasons why you felt that, thats all. Not a major! There is bits of the content that could have been expanded or should have been as you said so I’ll agree with you on that. Even Johnny’s death was a bit rushed over in all fairness! Still think 1 out of 5 is harsh. If you didn’t like this then don’t read one of her other books Rumble Fish as the plot is even less well-paced as you would put it and has no depth including the characters. This is going against the point of a book review but I reckon The Outsiders still has the potential to be a great movie unlike the one that was made back in the day!

  5. Andrew

    The only other thing I didn’t like about the book was their names but they could have been common nicked names used back then but I’m not older enough to know that or I haven’t done any research on that.

  6. sharris

    Even though there are problems with the plot in the novel (loose ends mentioned in previous comments), I disagree that the characters are not memorable. For example, Johnny’s character develops throughout the novel from being shy and timid (he looked like a lost puppy who had been “kicked too many times”) to brave and “gallant” when he saved those children from the burning church. Even at the moment of his death, he felt that it was worth giving his life for those children. Disclaimer: This was written by an entire class of very exasperated middle schoolers who just finished reading the novel.

    • Carrie Slager

      Well, that is their opinion, is it not? For me Johnny was not at all a memorable character because the entire story didn’t ring true. There wasn’t that emotional connection because S. E. Hinton, in my opinion, had a very immature writing style that reflected her age at the time of writing this book.

      Calling someone a memorable character is completely subjective and Johnny is not a character I remember out of the hundreds of books I’ve read. Marco and Wu from The Return Man, Georgia from the Newsflesh trilogy, Julius Caesar from the Masters of Rome series and Cleopatra from The Memoirs of Cleopatra are all far more memorable for me personally. That’s simply my opinion and you’re free to disagree with that.

      • sharris

        How can you compare great, historical figures like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra to a fictional teenager? That’s unfair competition for poor Johnny.

        • Carrie Slager

          As I seem to recall, I learned from an early age that life is anything but fair. You want teenage examples? How about Eve from Eve by Anna Carey, Catherine from Catherine, Called Birdy, Meg and Aiden Falconer from Chasing the Falconers by Gordon Korman, Carson from Black Crow White Lie and Kurt from Run Like Jäger? These were all far more memorable than Johnny and they’re all teenagers or even pre-teens in the case of Meg Falconer.

          What you don’t seem to understand is that in my opinion Johnny is not a memorable character. That’s just my opinion and I have stated my reasons for why this is. Either accept it or move on and comment elsewhere.

  7. sharris

    And it’s a valid opinion. I’m sure I’d also forget many characters if I read “hundreds of books” like you. I will now take my leave. Exeunt.

  8. Emily

    In terms of your argument, I think your evidence is quite lacking; however, I do believe that there is nothing whatsoever that is special or noticeable about The Outsiders. It isn’t Hinton’s young age that sets me against her, because Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon, was fifteen when he first started writing it and his prose is absolutely stunning; I would not have believed that he was merely a teenager upon penning something like that.
    I feel that the prose and writing style is very simplistic and bland. There is nothing to spice up the novel, and I was able to read the so-called “sad” parts of the story with an utterly straight and uncaring face because Hinton simply could not cause pain in me. I saw no reason to be sad; the quality of the prose gave me no reason to.
    The Outsiders gave me no feeling, no final lasting impression that would ensure that I would forever remember the book for how it had impacted me or how it had affected my life. I am currently studying this book for my English class and I am simply failing to see why we are using a novel written by someone who could have been our PEER and analyzing it like it is a piece of great literature. It makes me sick.

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