According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser. – Goodreads
I’ve long meant to read this book – not only is it a modern classic, but it’s lauded as being the genesis of the Young Adult genre. It’s also an epic, personal, deeply emotional representation of what it’s like to be a teenager caught in the web of social stratification and all the conflict and consequences that result.
It’s not easy to find your place in the world. You’re born into whatever social situation you’re born into, and it doesn’t much matter what you could have been capable of in another life. What matters is surviving in this one.
Ponyboy is an incredibly smart, observant and sensitive kid. He loves to read, he’s got a way with words and he is incredibly insightful. He sees things in the world around him that others simply take for granted. But Ponyboy is also a greaser. Greasers are the epitome of the phrase “wrong side of the tracks.” Brought up without money or privilege (and often without engaged parents – or any parents at all), most of them are petty criminals and brawlers. But underneath this rough exterior is a deep sense of loyalty – loyalty born of being the underprivileged. The outsiders.
The bane of their young lives are the “socs” (pronounces soshes – short for “socials” or “socialites”), the rich kids who get off on terrorizing greasers who are unlucky enough to find themselves outnumbered.
Our story really begins the night Johnny, a greaser who had been very badly beaten by a gang of socs not long before, and who had never been the same since, kills a soc who is threatening to drown Ponyboy. This one act of self defense is the first of a string of dominoes that leads to a final showdown between the socs and greasers, the loss of someone in their defacto family, and a discovery of love between brothers – both blood and non – that runs deep.
Written by Hinton when she was still a teenager, the story has a rawness and an authenticity that makes it a timeless portrayal of both class conflict and youth. At its heart, it is a tale of retribution and a lesson in snap judgements and what harm can come from refusing to look past the surface.
It’s pretty much impossible to read this book without becoming emotionally invested, and there’s a decent chance of tears. It’s not hard to identify with Ponyboy – particular if you’re a reader. He’s a sensitive, smart kid, and one you’re rooting for despite the odds stacked against him. There are some great literary references mixed in with greaser dialect, most notably the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost that led to the famous quote, “Stay gold, Ponyboy.”
It’s not a long book, nor is it difficult to read, but it is impactful and shows up on high school curriculae for a reason. I definitely recommend reading this if you’re a teenager, remember what it was like to be a teenager, or just looking for a really great story.
Author: S.E. Hinton
Published By: Penguin Modern Classics
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Social Conflict
//<![CDATA[ var sc_project=10144299; var sc_invisible=1; var sc_security="82f610c9"; var scJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://secure." : "http://www."); document.write("”); //]]>