* Prices may differ from that shown
I do not usually read young adult fiction, it just isn't my genre. However, this book was a favourite of mine from childhood, and I wanted to read it again as an adult, to see if I still felt the same way about it. Things change, and I can not say my opinion is identical, but I still really enjoyed this book. I still think it is worth reading for adults, and I still think most of us can learn something from it. The author was only 17 when this was published, and in fact only 15 when she started writing it. Perhaps this is why teenagers took to this book so much. It expresses that deep feeling of wanting to belong, to find yourself and to be understood. If such feelings diminish with age, I doubt they totally disappear for many. We may find ourselves, but humans are a social animal,and unless we have a close knit family or group to belong to, there is always that desperate longing to be part of something, a primitive desire for tribal identity perhaps. If we are lucky, we find that someone who gets us, who understands who we are and accepts us such, warts and all, but if not, I think many go through life searching for someone who truly understands them. I am going to try something different and divide this review into three parts, first a basic outline of the characters and the story ,then stepping back in time to what I thought about this book when I first read this at age 12 and what I thought of it then - the second from my much older self in the present. The reason for this is, that this book is meant for a teenager, if you are thinking to buy this for one, it might be worth reading a child's opinion on it.
The story line consists of 3 brothers who have lost their parents in an automobile accident. The oldest has the task of raising his brothers, but he is only 20 himself. They also have a close knit "gang" to use the authors words. Myself, I would just call them mates. One of the strongest points to this book is that the characters are so well developed, so completely real, you feel as if you know them. The characters are:
Darry Curtis: The oldest brother who works two jobs and has grown up too quickly, sacrificing a chance at a better life to keep his brothers together.
Sodapop : I think we all know a Sodapop at one time or another. He's the one who is always ready with a big grin and a joke, who keeps everyone's spirits up and glues a group together. Sometimes people forget he has a deeper side though, as he doesn't quite know how to ask for what he needs.
Ponyboy Curtis: The main character, fourteen years old, he feels alienated and misunderstood and does not know where he fits in the world yet. He lives in a tough neighborhood, but loves books and reading and sometimes feel in between the two worlds.
Johny Cade: The one everybody loves except his own parents, a kid that touches everyone heart with his good nature and kindness despite a horrific background. No matter what - Johny is gold - but we'll get to that later.
Two Bit Mathews: The wise cracking easy going not a care in the world type.
Dallas Winston: Perhaps the least developed character, he is the stereotypical young hood. We are told he is the only one who is really bad - but not why- he never strikes me as a bad sort at all. He never came across as bad to me, only hurt, and the one chink in his armor may be his downfall.
This story develops around the rivalry between two groups, this time based on economic status. The soc's are extremely wealthy kids who want to rebel, but the poor souls have nothing to rebel against, so take it out on anyone poor. They seem to be looking for someone to attack to create a feeling of us and them - some hope of belonging, but this never did strike me as quite right, it always seemed there needed to be more to spark something like this. However the author claims this is based on fact, and the beginning of the story based on fact as well. The second group are greasers, long haired with plenty of hair grease ( why does hair oil in long hair just sound wrong?). Our main characters all belong to the latter group. It does not really focus on the deprivation though, but rather on the strong bonds between the group. This led some to condemn this book as glorifying violence and gang warfare. By my way of thinking it is really very tame for rival factions at each others throats, and the book treats violence as pointless, and a waste.
12 Year old Broxi's review
A teacher brought this book in for me to read. Teacher's often brought me books because I read everything I can get my hands on. I love books, but this book is different. I read it all in one night. I couldn't put it down.
It was likely the person writing this knew me, tapped into my feelings and understood. I loved the characters right away, some I feel like I know and it's easy to put a familiar face on them, especially Johny Cade. But I can really identify with Pony and his love of books too, that is totally me, maybe that is why the teacher thinks I should read it. I envy the sense of family the characters have, it seems like it would be brilliant to have such a caring family and friends about you all the time, even if takes Pony awhile to realise it.
Of all the characters though, I like Dallas Winston the most, maybe because he seems the most hopeless. I think I can identify with his desperation at times. The book talks about another book, "Gone With the Wind", I can't wait to read it myself. The gallantry of Southern troops going off to fight for a lost cause. I always have liked a lost cause. It compares a character in this book to those Southern Gentlemen, from what the book says about them, I think it fits, but it fits more than one of the characters quite well.
I loved the poem in this book "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost. It describes the loss of innocence, the magic of a newly opened leaf, like the magic of childhood slowly worn away by the world. Unlike Pony, I caught on to this right away - and Johny - well in the book he stayed gold, he kep that magic spark of sunrise.
Overall, I think this book is really brilliant, only one part just didn't make sense to me. The author says how poor they were, and then describes their dinners, two chickens and all the trimmings, chocolate cake, the works and on a weekday as an ordinary meal. God I wish we ate like that when we were skint! Finally got the book finished and now I can't sleep for thinking about food. It's that teacher's own fault if I fall asleep in class tommorow.
.... And a much older Broxi:
I am glad I read this again. I'm going to save this book and read it again when my sons are older. It's good for us old folks to remember what it feels like to be young and unsure of ourselves. There is still a lot I can take from this book, and I think it is well worth reading by anyone really. Some things I can pick on more as an adult - the author doesn't like to class herself as one group or another, but that does in itself. You see a kid from a good family with money can slum it - you can't walk out of ghetto and rich it though can you? She stresses things are tough all over, well I didn't buy it then and I don't now. Yes everyone has problems, but it's not the same, and I think it's a lot easier to deal with which uni will you get into and which new sports car should you choose, and my parents just spoil me too much I need someone to lay down the law, then some of the misery of children growing up unwanted, unloved and or in dire poverty. Maybe that is cynical but that's my take. Then the descriptions of food and Pony smoking 2 or 3 packs of fags a day. Many a time as an adult I couldn't do that. Where's the money coming from? If you smoke like that as a poor kid, you basically have to thieve, no way around it.
But you can see she really tried to understand, and she did tap into so many childhood universals. I think she missed the boat on thinking so many liked to fight as well. I have known a lot people who others might class as violent, and I really do not think very many of them like to fight. People tell me everything - always have - everything you never wanted to know - someone has told me. No one has ever told me they like fighting. First off the mark is usually just the most scared. Others fight for belonging - back to my tribal identity theories - or approval (usually female). It's a sad fact that many women secretly worship violence and many a poor idiot has gotten into too many fights to either impress his girl or his mother. At least where I live, there are far too many Mom's impressed by a boys violence as well. I just don't know anyone who likes getting hit, and my husband was a boxer when young, people fight for all sorts of reasons, but I do not think many do it just because they like too.
But if you think long enough, you can find something to nitpick on anything, and after all my thinking that's about all I can find in this book. Beyond that, it's a captivating story you can not put down. The character development is brilliant, as are the emotions. The book got me interested in so much more when I was young, poetry for one, looking for Frost but moving on to Poe, Wilde, and Byron, not to mention Gone With the Wind which I had to wait another two years before yet another kindly teacher brought me a copy.
As I've grown older, there are a lot more faces I can put to the characters, people who just match the characters in the book. I can see even more the utter futility of senseless violence, and I can see more and more boys like Johny Cade and Dallas Winston - boys on teh outside of a family circle, without really anywhere to go or anyone who really cares. I've always thought of some of them as lost boys - but it isn't like anyone is looking for them either. If you read the book you'll sense the feeling of just being lost by many of these boys who look a lot tougher then they are. I've known too many in real life.
I don't really want to go on too much about the story - it's one you should read for yourself, and at any rate this review is getting long enough to try anyone's patience by now. But I do recommend this book to everyone.