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Read This: Looking back on 50 years of The Outsiders

The Outsiders cover detail
The Outsiders cover detail

It’s been 50 years since the first publication of The Outsiders, a small novel that rocked the publishing industry and arguably set the stage for the YA genre as a whole. Susan Eloise Hinton was an Oklahoma teenager (who had just failed a creative writing class) when she wrote her first novel. It describes a gang of lost boys who form their own family as they face off against rival gang the Socs. Hinton was only 18 when the novel was released, and it has sold millions of copies since then and is still required reading in many schools. Cementing the novel’s legendary status was its 1983 film adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola, starring the brightest young stars of the day, like Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, and a young Tom Cruise at the start of his career.

In honor of the book’s 50th birthday this month, The New York Times went to Tulsa, where 48-year-old fanboy Danny O’Connor (and former House Of Pain member) is creating an Outsiders museum in the house that served as the home of Ponyboy Curtis and his brothers in the movie. As O’Connor works to pull together as many artifacts as he can about the film and its source material, the author of it all looked back on the lasting resonance of her most famous novel. She followed it with other successful books that were also made into films, like Tex, Rumble Fish, and That Was Then, This Is Now. But there’s something about The Outsiders that still lands with teenagers 50 years later. Hayley Krischer for The New York Times writes:

For Ms. Hinton, the book is something of a time capsule of her own emotionally driven teenage angst. “I think that’s why it still resonates with teens, because they feel like that,” she said. “Your feelings are over the top. You’re feeling and seeing injustice, and you’re standing up against it.”

The Times points out that the male characters in The Outsiders are extremely emotional, frequently crying in front of each other or close to tears, which is at odds with the street-smart “Greaser” image their gang tries to convey. That emotionality helps make these boys more relatable, from sensitive Johnny to stern Darrell to the rebellious Dallas.

Some readers have even attributed characteristics that the author did not intend, with a whole genre of fan fiction that depicts Johnny and Dallas as a couple. Some of Hinton’s readers got into it with her on Twitter last fall when she disagreed with that particular interpretation of her novel:

I have no problem with anyone interpreting my books anyway they want… But I’m getting these letters that are, “Just say you wrote it gay and I’ll be satisfied.” Well, your satisfaction isn’t at the top of my priorities.

In the meantime, she points to what the book still can teach us years later. She tells the Times: “So many people say to me after reading it, ‘I’m looking at people differently now than I used to’… Let’s all quit judging each other.”

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