“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…”
This book found its way into my hands from the unlikeliest of sources – my boyfriend. The thing is, my honey has never been much of a reader, and in all the years that I’ve known him we never really talked about books. He would patiently listen to me rant about the latest favorite, but never lead the conversation. That is until a couple of months ago, when we were sitting at a charity hockey game, he mentioned that one book that has touched him the most was The Outsiders which he had to read for school. I absolutely had to check it out!
The Outsiders tells a story about two socially-divided rival gags, who are constantly at war with each other. Ponyboy, who is the narrator of this story, belongs to Greasers – rebels and outcasts from working class background. His family includes his two greaser brothers and a whole bunch of unwanted boys from all kinds of roads of life. Ponyboy is very different from the rest of the gang, excelling at school and being on a track team. The only people he can relate and open up to are his cheerful and carefree brother Sodapop and quiet Johnny. Other boys are mostly school dropouts with extensive criminal records, who pride themselves for being tough to the point of feeling nothing. Nevermind these differences, the Greasers are tight and look out for each other like a real family.
“He’s so greasy he glides when he walks. He goes to the barber for an oil change, not a haircut.”
On the other side of the rivalry are the Socs – the privileged kids from the West side. They ride around the town in expensive cars and pick fights with Greasers for no reason. Socs never get punished for their malicious behavior because society likes to see Greasers as the source of the problem. The rich kids get a slap on the wrist, and sometimes their parents pay off authorities to get them out of hot water. In this world of utter lack of consequences lives Bob, the leader of a local Socs gang. Before the events of the novel we learn that Bob an his buddies beat up shy Johnny to the point that the kid is terrified of his own shadow. This sets out a chain of events that leads to major war between the rivals and finally to a tragic event that sends Ponyboy and Johnny on the run from the police.
The book sends a powerful message about the society’s impact on the kids. Ponyboy’s brothers and friends are forced to grow up too soon; they know how to live on the street and fend for themselves. Darryl, the narrator’s eldest brother, has to forget his dreams of going to college after their parents die in order to raise his two siblings. He lets Sodapop be himself and fool around, but is being extra tough on Ponyboy, because he sees great potential in the youngster. While Ponyboy is destined to get out of this hopeless life someday, he knows that his friends will perish on the streets with nobody to remember them; and the society is OK with that. He writes this story to tell people that Greasers are also humans, who hurt and love, and suffer, but know no other way of life besides the one the society imposes on them.
“But I remembered Dally pulling Johnny through the window of the burning church; Dally giving us his gun, although it could mean jail for him; Dally risking his life for us, trying to keep Johnny out of trouble. And now he was a dead juvenile delinquent and there wouldn’t be any editorials in his favor. Dally didn’t die a hero. He died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he’d die someday.”
If you want to see real Grease world beyond the colorful musical with John Travolta, this is the book for you. It will make you cry, it will make you angry, but it will also leave in your mind a bittersweet memory of the lost boys nobody appreciated.