Genre: Young Adult Fiction
This is a very well-known novel and has even become a required read in many middle/junior high schools across the United States. This story has a minor aspect of American history to it, and it has a number of key ideas such as friendship bridging the gap between rich and poor, honor can be found among the lawless, and that one’s identity must be found outside the influence of friends and family.
Interestingly enough, S.E. Hinton is a woman who published her debut novel under the guise of a man. In the 1960’s, women were still seen as unequal to men, especially in the great literary canon of American writers. Obviously, her novel transcends time and has become a great classic for young readers today.
Although never explicitly stated, this novel takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1965. In this coming-of-age novel, two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (So-sheh-s, short for Socials) are two rival groups divided by their socioeconomic status (the place/location they live in and the income their families have).
The conflict of status between the Socs and the Greasers is long running, and when Ponyboy, the main character (and yes, that is his real name), is jumped by some of the Socs after a movie, his older brother and friend come to his aid. The conflict continues when Ponyboy and fellow Greaser Johnny, come face-to-face with the Socs in a park in the middle of the night. After some snide remarks, Ponyboy spits at the Socs, egging them to try and drown him. Seeing that his friend is drowning, Johnny stabs one of the boys in order to save his friend, honor among the lawless.
Even though he was saving his friend, Johnny committed murder. Ponyboy, present for the death of the Soc, runs to his brother for help and advice. Together, Ponyboy and Johnny hop a train to a few towns away and find solace in a church for a few days. When Dally, one of the Greasers, comes to tell he boys that tensions are even higher after the murder of Bob the Soc, Johnny decides that perhaps things would be best if he just turns himself in.
When the three boys aim to head back to Tulsa, they notice that the church is on fire, and children on a field trip are trapped inside. Perhaps it is his guilt of murder, or perhaps is was the boy’s fault that the church caught fire in the first place, but some impulse drives Johnny to save the children, risking his own life for their own.
With Johnny’s sacrifice, he may not make it, and the tensions continue to boil between the two social gangs. Ponyboy not only loses more than one friend, but he gains numerous injuries from the planned brawl between the gangs. When his grades begin to fall, he finds solace in Gone With the Wind and the theme of death, and the purpose of life and doing something honorable.
Overall, the writing style is sophisticated in the writing itself, but it is also written to fit the attitudes of the characters, which makes the novel feel real. This book, being one of the required reads in many schools, demonstrates a number of social and global issues that we still have today, such as discrimination due to socioeconomic status and gang violence. These concepts are important for young people to have an understanding of so that they can form their own opinions and arguments with these issues as seen in contemporary society. Whether you are in 8th grade, college, or retired, I would say this book is worth the read, becoming one of the great pieces of the American literary canon.