When I was in grade 7, my English class read The Outsiders. As an adult I have little memory of my initial reaction to the text. This time around, I feel like I truly got to enjoy the novel for its complex character voices, honest portrayals of the type of cliques and subsequent bullying that goes on in and out of schools, and the family-like relationship built with people that are not necessarily family – characteristics that will leave a lasting impression.
The setting of the novel at first glance may seem simplistic. Ponyboy Curtis and the Greasers are from small town America, where the haves, the Socs, and the have not’s, the Greasers, are segregated. But Ponyboy’s world is anything but simplistic. The characters are very well constructed and relatable. Even if you have never felt the extreme segregation that Ponyboy and his friends feel, and even if you’ve never greased back you hair, or carried a switchblade, you still feel like you know these boys, or that you are one of them.
The hardships, and struggles that Ponyboy faces are extreme, and not every teenager will have witnessed or been apart of a fight, but every reader will be able to relate to the overwhelming feeling of not belonging. Ponyboy’s own internal struggle between the strong bonds he feels with his friends and his family, and the isolation that he feels from the same people, will resonate strongly with readers. While there is violence and language used when depicting the literal fights that Ponyboy is apart of, and the internal struggles that Ponyboy faces, by today’s standards, the novel is fairly tame.
Yes some of the vocabulary and jargon is dated, and yes some of the references may not be understood by teens today, but Ponyboy’s story is still one that teens can learn from and relate to. Readers in grade 7 to grade 10 would be the perfect audience for The Outsiders because of the Ponyboy’s relatable nature, the life lessons that he learns and his personal struggle to find himself, outside of being a Greasers and outside from being his brothers’ little brother.