I first read this book when I was a teen and remember liking it. At the time I probably liked the movie more because it starred many of the teen-crush pack. I also remember being particularly struck that S.E. Hinton had to use her initials to publish so that people would not know she was a woman and discount her work.
I came across this book again in a box of books I have been saving for my kids for when they became a bit older (which is now), and decided to re-read it before handing them over to them. It is always interesting to go back and re-read things you read when you were much younger, and this was no exception. WARNING: Spoilers Below!
I had forgotten some of the main plot, like that Johnny and Ponyboy become heroes by saving a bunch of little kids from a fire. Or that, despite the “big rumble” driving the Socs out of Greaser territory, nothing really changes. There were also some things I missed completely at the time I first read it. Like that Soda’s girlfriend was send away because she was pregnant, and it turns out the baby was not Soda’s. Or like that if any of the kids had different circumstances, their lives might have looked very different.
Fundamentally, this is a story about the thinking of teenagers, forced to grow up too fast, and forced to either accept, or try to overcome, their circumstances. Dally, the tough “delinquent” from NYC who has spent time in jail. Darry, the 20 year old who takes on the role of parent to his two minor brothers in order to help keep the family together. Soda, the sensitive middle brother, who acts happy-go-lucky to mask what is really going on. Johnny, the abused kid who hates violence and just wants approval. And Ponyboy, the little brother who has to make sense of the world he is part of, while realizing his potential to do more. They are all victims of their circumstances, but not stereotypes of their characters.
I did find myself wondering what the sequel would look like. Would Ponyboy finish HS with top grades and go to college therefore getting himself and his brothers out of their community? Would Soda get married too young to his next HS sweetheart? Would Darry every be able to follow his dreams? Would the Socs all become stereotypical frat boys? Would Cherry manage to get out of town?
Overall a good YA novel that I’m glad I revisited.