The Outsiders was the one Young Adult (YA) novel I read as a young adult and actually liked. By the time I was twelve, I was reading adult books, mostly mysteries from the Golden Age of Detective fiction and action-adventure novels by Alistair MacLean. I only discovered the novel when the movie aired on TV when I was sixteen. I wrote about that two years ago when it was the fiftieth anniversary of The Outsiders.
Today I am writing about the things that made me fall in love with the novel, qualities I try to remember when writing my YA fiction.
Kids on Their Own
I think one of the reasons I switched to adult fiction is that I got sick of books with teen characters, who make huge mistakes — dumb ones in my opinion — and then get corrected by adults. I had enough of that going on in reality. In The Outsiders, Ponyboy Curtis, the main character, lives with his twenty-year-old brother because their parents recently died in a car accident. He has to work out the problems in his life for himself or with the help of his brothers or friends. I found the absence of adult figures, except for a few key scenes, greatly appealing.
Ponyboy tells his story in first-person. His narration is so personal that I felt like he was sitting beside me, talking to me as a friend. Author S. E. Hinton threw in all kinds of extra detail that didn’t directly affect the plot but made Ponyboy, his brothers, and the friends of his gang seem real. Such as the Curtis brothers like chocolate cake for breakfast, Ponyboy hates most guys with green eyes, and he loves to smoke but also runs track.
I still enjoy reading YA fiction because so many authors use first-person. I don’t find it nearly as often in adult fiction of any genre. Many times the third-person narration keeps the characters at a distance from me.
Characters Described in Depth
Ms. Hinton introduces Ponyboy and the other main characters in the first chapter with detailed descriptions. Today her style is considered poor writing. But I loved it then and still do. In a few pages, Ms. Hinton allowed me to imagine those characters vividly.
Sodapop Curtis –” . . . he has a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time.”
Dallas Winston — “He had an elfish face, with high cheekbones and a pointed chine, small, sharp animal teeth, and ears like a lynx.”
Johnny Cade — “He was the gang’s pet, everyone’s kid brother.”
What’s your favorite YA novel? Do you still love it as an adult?