On April 24th, 1967, The Outsiders was published as a cheap, drugstore paperback, in a time before the YA fiction market even existed.
Author S.E. Hinton started writing her famous book at just fifteen—and, amazingly enough, this wasn’t even the first book she wrote! She reveals in an interview for Entertainment Weekly that in middle school she wrote a book about The Civil War, commenting that she has “no idea what [she] thought [she] knew about the Civil War.”
The premise of The Outsiders, though, was something she knew about from her experiences with a divided community that closely paralleled the deep cultural division between the “Socs” and the “Greasers.”
She relates, for instance, that the opening scene of the book—when Ponyboy is jumped while he walks home alone from the movies—was inspired by one of her friends getting jumped in real life. And yes, she says, her friends were really called “Greasers!”
IMAGE VIA IMGUR
Later in the interview, she reveals:
“I get so many letters from people saying, “You changed my life.” That scares me. I love getting letters saying, “I never liked to read, but I read your book, and now I’m going on to read other books.” But the “You changed my life” stuff is scary, because who am I to change anybody’s life? But I’ve learned to deal with it by thinking, The Outsiders was meant to be written, and I got chosen to write it. The rest of ’em, I just wrote, but The Outsiders was supposed to be there.”
Even today, during a time when the YA fiction market is thriving, this book still feels different from a lot of other books for young readers. In most fiction you read in middle school, like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, there’s a clear “bad guy” and a “good guy.” I think The Outsiders still feels original because it doesn’t pretend that good and evil are such distinct categories—the real villain in The Outsiders is the socioeconomic disparity that divides the Socs and the Greasers in the first place. Hinton does a thorough job of showing the reality of both sides, like when Cherry Valance says, “Maybe the two different worlds we live in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
IMAGE VIA VARIETY
The Outsiders gained further staying power and widespread fame when it was adapted into an 1983 film adaptation directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring celebrities like Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise. Mandi Bierly writes for HBO that the
“performances can be endearingly green and melodramatic at times; given the actors’ ages, the fast-moving plot, and the heightened teen emotions (“Let’s do it for Johnny, man! We’ll do it for Johnny!”), it’s to be expected. But there are also moments that ring so true, you feel them scarring your heart the way only teen dramas can: ‘I used to talk about killing myself all the time. Man, I don’t want to die now. It ain’t long enough. Sixteen years ain’t gonna be long enough.'”
Whether in the form of a book or a movie, the message of The Outsiders clearly resonates with teens. Hopefully, it will continue to remain popular reading for young readers for decades to come!
FEATURED IMAGE VIA MENTALFLOSS