Ponyboy Curtis is an orphan. He lives with his two older brothers, Darry, who works construction and Sodapop, who dropped out of school to work in a garage to help support the family. Ponyboy and his friends are Greasers, kids with leather jackets and long, grease-slicked hair from working class backgrounds, often with a lot of trouble at home. Quite a few of the Greasers are part of gangs and having a criminal record isn't all that uncommon.
Ponyboy would much rather be a Greaser with no parents than a Soc, however. The rich, privileged society kids with their expensive cars and their letterman jackets, whose favourite pasttime is teaming up to beat up Greasers. Ponyboy is the baby of the gang, and clearly the one with enough smarts and academic prospects to have a chance of getting a good college scholarship and making something promising with his life. Darry had to give up on his college dreams when their parents died, and Sodapop would much rather work on cars than go to school.
While the clashes between the Socs and the Greasers can get pretty rough, they tend to be broken up before anyone can get badly hurt. One fateful evening, when Ponyboy and the badly traumatised Johnny Cade are attacked by a gang of drunken Socs who get particularly threatening, everything goes to hell. Ponyboy and Johnny go on the run, hiding out from the cops in a countryside church. When there's an unexpected fire, the boys get a chance to show that hoodlums from the wrong side of the tracks can make a real difference.
The Outsiders was one of my favourite books as a young teen. I can't entirely remember how old I first read this book, but I can vividly remember my reaction to it. I stayed up way later than was sensible, considering it was a school night to finish it, and I cried so hard that I couldn't see the pages anymore. Big, racking sobs and full on ugly crying. I remember being amazed that the author was only fifteen when she started writing the book. Is it a literary masterpiece? No, probably not, it's a fairly simplistic story but it's a compelling novel written by a teenager, in the voice of another teenager and having re-read it for the first time in about fifteen years, in English for the first time, I was still really strongly emotionally affected by it.
Unfortunately, I no longer remember exactly what I thought about the social situation of the various Greasers described in this book, nor what I felt about Ponyboy's strained relationship with his oldest brother. Now, as an adult, I probably see a lot of the relationships in this book from a very different perspective. I still cried a lot at certain sections of the book, but I suspect I cried the hardest at other parts than when I was a young teen. I can't objectively judge the quality of this book, because it's such a powerful piece of nostalgia for me, and will always be an emotional reading experience for me. My husband has never read the book, nor watched the film (which I'd love to rewatch now, having not seen it for about as long as since I last read the book), and I plan to read this out loud to him, as he, early in our relationship, read me The Hobbit and The Wind in the Willows.