Gangs and guys named Ponyboy. I know, sounds tough doesn’t it. Okay, names aside, this book is really about growing up in the hood. It seriously brought back some of the tension of growing up around gang stuff and the great social divide (at my school those were two separate issues but both present). The economic divisions and the tension that results are still there in just about every urban city in the nation. This book made me feel the anxiety of going to school and holding down the stress that results from a regular barrage of violence that you see in the halls and then doing everything you can to avoid being part of it. Ponyboy and his buddies are trying to live life, for the most part, without all the trouble that surrounds them. Unable to just change their surroundings, they stick it out in their neighborhood and deal with all that comes with that. In the end, violence gets what it wants and they live with what it brings.
The Outsiders, was written by a 16 year old S.E. Hinton. That blows me away. I read stuff written by some of the brightest public school kids in Oklahoma City and nothing is ever like this. The book stirred up all of those fight our flight feelings that I often went to school with throughout middle school and high school. As a middle school teacher in an urban school district, it dredges up deep issues that are at the root of many of the problems that affect our schools. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a student who always seemed to be in a fight. When I sat down with him he said, “Mr. C., the thing you don’t realize is that this doesn’t end here at school. If I don’t do this at school where there is someone to stop it, then it happens out there where there is no one to. I would rather do it here where I know it will end.” What do you say to that? This book is a look into the lives of the kids for whom it never ends and there is rarely anyone to stop it before it goes too far. This book is a classic by my standards, and a book that should make it on every to-read list. Not everyone is going to love it but I think it has enough in there for most if you stick with it all the way through.