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Stay gold? An entry any Outsider should appreciate



Previously in Lurker's Blog, I pledged the following:

For my next blog, I promise to write about something I REALLY liked and am NOT griping about. The betting pools on how long that will take are now open...
Bit of a hasty pledge, I think, having to find something to read that I'd like and not gripe about (and is otherwise appropriate for this blog). After a few days, I found my answer: a re-read. Yeah, it's a bit of a cheat. But it was hard enough finding something that I was willing and interested in re-reading. So...here goes...and in the future, no more silly promises from me.The book I chose to re-read is: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It's been years since I last read it, though I know that it's a book that has resonated with me emotionally in the past. At some point, I saw the movie based on the book too, though I have no recollection whether it was any good or not. All I remember is that I didn't think the movie was as good as the book (it almost never is), and that a lot of the cast went on to bigger and better things. Looking it up on imdb now confirms that for me. The 1983 Francis Ford Coppola directed film included: Matt Dillon (before pretty much anything), Ralph Macchio (before the Karate Kid), Patrick Swayze (when he had only done tv before), Rob Lowe (also with just tv experience), Emelio Estevez (before the Brat Pack), and Tom Cruise (before Risky Business). I thought that reviewing The Outsiders would be a good choice for this site, because S.E. Hinton was only 16 years old when she wrote the book, and we've got some excellent young authors around here. Part of what makes 14 year old Ponyboy Curtis (the narrator and protagonist) so real is that you never feel like it's an adult pretending to be a teenager. At first glance, the Outsiders seems 1960s cliche - following the adventures of "greaser" Ponyboy Curtis as he, his older siblings, and 'gang' of friends fight against the rival "Socs" with disastrous results for everyone. In some ways, it's classic West Side Story - without the dancing fights - except there is no race component here, just a class one. The greasers are poor, the Socs are rich. Mix. And in some ways, the Outsiders is cliche or at least an odd period piece by today's standards (with the rumbling and the fact that even the 'baddest' kid merely dares to carry an unloaded gun). But part of what makes the book work is that it isn't a star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet) plot. It's about family and parenting, belonging and rebelling, friendships between guys who are forced to be 'brothers,' and an adolescent awakening to the fact that black/white dichotomies break down in the face of the harsh multi-spectrum reality that exists (a reality where gray seeks to overwhelm the gold).There is something about this story that reminds me an awful lot of the themes that authors at GA write about. Ponyboy dubs his group as Outsiders. But what's striking is how much he is an outsider within this group of outsiders. Besides being the youngest, he's the dreamer, the poet, the writer. He's appreciates sunsets, and he knows he can't share this with his 'gang' (other than Johnny, the group pet, who is young and frail). He spends an awful lot of time caring about what his hair looks like and the image it portrays (being cool). Of course, in some ways he's hiding himself, and interestingly, it's only when he's running away and physically hiding (in the context of the plot), that he's more able to actually BE who he is.Perhaps it is due to the fact that Ponyboy is really being written by a teenage girl, but he also really notices what other guys look like and who is 'handsome.' His idol-worship of his older brother, Sodapop, reads very much like a crush. And the narrative flat-out shares that he doesn't quite get the interest in girls that his brothers and friends express. I'm not saying that Ponyboy is written to be gay, but it's a subtext that is noticeable at least. On a thinking level, what makes The Outsiders work is that despite its imperfections in technique (amateurish Tom Swiftly type descriptions at times), it's a believable, well-crafted story. It starts right when the action does, and it never lets up until the end. If anything, it begs for a sequel.But...what makes The Outsiders a worthwhile read has nothing to do with the thinking analysis. It hits home emotionally on the themes of loneliness and loss, friendship and love. I know what's going to happen, and yet I still react emotionally to the characters. It's a book that can make you feel. And that's why I like it (and recommend it).

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