This teen-life book by S.E. Hinton is published by Viking Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Group and is written for kids ages 12 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Ponyboy Curtis has seen a lot in his 14 years. His parents are dead, and now he lives with his older brothers, Soda and Darry. They're all "greasers," underprivileged kids who are known for fighting and for wearing their hair slicked back. They fight with the wealthy "socs" who seem to have it all. When Ponyboy's friend Johnny accidentally kills a soc named Bob, the murder sets off a chain of troubling and violent events for the greasers. But through the turmoil, Ponyboy has heart-to-heart talks with some of Bob's soc friends, and he realizes that the greasers and socs aren't as different as he once thought.
Johnny and Ponyboy hide out in an abandoned church. While there, Ponyboy recalls how he and Johnny used to go to church regularly until some of the gang joined them one Sunday and made a scene. They never went back.
Twenty-year-old Darry has sacrificed his dream of college to serve as the sole parent for his younger teenage brothers. He works long hours to support them and would do anything to protect them. He insists Ponyboy keep his curfew and maintain good grades, but he also permits the boys to smoke, fight and engage in a number of other questionable and unsafe behaviors. The boys' deceased parents are remembered as loving individuals. Jerry Wood and Mr. Syme, both teachers, are the adult characters in the story, and both demonstrate their belief that Ponyboy is something more than a worthless thug.
Other Belief Systems
Although the author implies frequent profanity, she stops short of actually using it. The greasers and the socs regularly fight one another, often beating each other. They draw blood, inflict deep wounds and concussions and even kill.
Ponyboy says he knows what goes on in bedrooms during parties. Darry insinuates that Soda's girlfriend left town because she was pregnant and Soda was hurt to learn it wasn't his child.
New York Herald Tribune Best Teenage Books List, 1967; Chicago Tribune Book World Spring Book Festival Honor Book, 1967; Media and Methods Maxi Award, 1975; American Library Association Best Young Adults Books, 1975; and Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 1979.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How does the violence and hatred in this book make you feel?
- Why do you think these young people — greasers and socs — feel they need to fight?
- How does Darry parent well? How does he parent not so well?
- Despite all the violence in The Outsiders, Ponyboy clearly values human life — even the lives of his enemies.
What are some of the ways you see this through his words and actions?
- What does Johnny mean when he urges Ponyboy to stay gold?
- How can you keep from becoming hateful and cynical in a world that doesn't always seem fair?
- In what ways are Ponyboy's greaser friends good for him?
In what ways do they bring him down?
Do you think they would help him or hurt him as he tries to keep his priorities straight?
How are your friends good for you?
How do your friends bring you down?
- Is Dally's death a suicide?
- What does this tragedy teach Ponyboy and his brothers?
Notes: Many underage characters in the book use alcohol and drugs, shoplift, fight (sometimes with weapons), cheat, lie and have criminal records. Most smoke habitually. Ponyboy says it's calming, and he and others display behaviors when they can't smoke that reveal their nicotine addictions. Dally Winston, a tough greaser who loves Johnny like a brother, purposely threatens police with an empty gun so they will fire on him. His desperate death is essentially a suicide.
In 1988 the author won the Margaret Alexander Edwards Award for her contribution to books for young adults.
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