This is the second in a new feature called Monday’s Memory where I share about a book I read as a youth, or at least, in this case, one I thought I had read as a youth. I also read this one for my own Personal Banned Books Week Challenge: A book a day in honor of Banned Books Week (for more about it and Banned Books Week, which is Sept. 27 until Oct. 4, click on the link), Jessica’s Lit Flicks Challenge and her brother’s companion challenge coincidentally called Lit Flicks Challenge too (click the links for the subtle difference).
How I discovered
I had heard about this– and until last night when I started reading it I thought I had read it– when I was a kid. Now after finishing it, to be honest, I don’t think I read it, but I’m still going to count it as a Monday’s Memory post, because I do remember it. 🙂 I think, though, the book I actually read by Hinton was Tex. I’ll have to read that one for a future Monday’s Memory.
In Ponyboy’s world, there were two types of people. You could be a soc, one of the rich society kids, and get away with anything. Or if you weren’t lucky you could be a greaser, like he was. Living on the outside, Ponyboy knew where his loyalties lay: with his brothers Darry and Soda, and with Johnny and their gang.
Hanging out at Darry’s house, where they made their own rules or rumbling with the socs, it was the best of times. Until Johnny went too far. Defending Ponyboy’s life, Johnny pulled a knife…and a soc was dead. Johnny and Ponyboy were on the run, but they couldn’t escape the violence they left behind.
— from the book jacket
Like Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which I recently read and reviewed, this one also was but 10 chapters long, and like Slaughterhouse-Five, I also thought this one was well-crafted. However, whereas Vonnegut’s focus was on the plot that kept looping upon itself, Hinton’s focus seemed to be more on the details of her characters, which was evident from the very first paragraph, as Ponyboy describes himself:
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. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman– he looks tough and I don’t– but I guess my own looks aren’t so bad. I have light-brown, almost-red hair and greenish-gray eyes. I wish they were more gray, because I hate most guys that have green eyes, but I have to content with what I have. My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood rarely bothers to get a haircut. Besides, I look better with long hair.
Aside: Of course, I would be remiss in mentioning that this first paragraph also struck me because coincidentally Paul Newman passed away recently– which is another post I will do for another time. I thought how strange and remembered the laughing Newman from my favorite Newman movie Cool Hand Luke.
Hinton, who amazingly was only 16 when she wrote this, her debut novel, fleshed out the characters of Ponyboy’s brother’s Darry and Soda, and then Johnny and his gang throughout Chapter 1 in a similar vein, with great attention to detail.
I couldn’t help but reminded of the movie The Breakfast Club as I continued to read with the divisions between the social strata. When Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally, another one of the greasers, go to the movies where they meet up with two soc girls, even without reading the spoiler on the book jacket, you just know something bad is going to happen. Hinton telegraphed this, but leaves the reader guessing as to when.
As expected, it does, but then Hinton tossed in some unexpected curve balls that were quite refreshing (I won’t say what; it would be too much of a spoiler, if you haven’t read it). However, what made (and makes) this story shine was (and is) Hinton’s understanding of not only the division between the social strata, but also the common bonds they share: the fears and joys, for example, as simple as watching a sunset, of young adults and us all.
For this reason, in my final analysis, I give this book a 5 out of 5. As for why it was challenged, I have read a few places online (although after only a few minutes of searching I couldn’t find specific citation) that it had been challenged in South Milwaukee because “drug and alcohol abuse was common” in the novels and “virtually all the characters were from broken homes.” By today’s standards, and also as far as reality is concerned, I didn’t find anything objectionable– not to say that I think kids should be out drinking and doing drugs. But let’s be honest, they do– however, that really wasn’t the focus of the story as much as it was a story about what it truly means to be family and what it truly means to be friends.