The Outsiders-Genesis of the YA Genre

July 31, 2011 — Leave a comment

Today the genre of young adult literature (YA) for readers ages 14-21 is filled with choice. This was not so 40 years ago; young adult literature was limited to the classics like Treasure Island, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables or “higher reading level” children’s books.  The turbulent  1960s created changes politically and socially and hosted radical changes in young adult literature. Books with controversial themes and mature language became the literature read by young adults. Many critics believe that the genesis for YA literature can be found in The Outsiders, a novel written by S.E. Hinton when she was a teenager herself.

The book that started YA; we have the most copies of this edition

She began writing the book in her sophomore year in high school; the book was published in 1967 when she was 16 years old. “‘I wanted something to read,’states S.E. Hinton on the website dedicated to the book.  ‘I’d wanted to read books that showed teenagers outside of the life of, ‘Mary Jane went to the prom.’.  She recalls, ‘The books available just didn’t read true, they didn’t deal with the real lives of teenagers.'”

The story follows Ponyboy, a greaser and a member of a gang that rumbles against more the more affluent gang members known as the socs (short for “socials”) . His deep friendships with other members of his gang are tested when during a confrontation, Johnny, a greaser, accidentally kills a soc. While this murder sets off a series of  gang fights, Ponyboy and Johnny hide out in a church. When the church catches fire, the pair rescue several children who are trapped inside, but Johnny suffers a fatal injury. At the conclusion of the novel, Ponyboy is pushed to complete an English assignment by writing down the recent events of his life; these are the events that make up the novel.

We have The Outsiders as a reading text in Grade 8. Like most adolescents, our students love this book. They enjoy the style of the writing and the authenticity of the events of the novel.

Film of the book directed by Francis Ford Coppola

There are always enough copies of this text at used book sales so that I can replace copies that may have been lost or fallen apart from use. We have have a mix of several different editions already, so I am not looking for any particular edition. The book currently retails at Amazon for $9.99. I have picked up a dozen copies this past year for about $6.00 because the book usually is priced at $.50/copy at used book sales since, regardless of the edition, it is a small paperback.

There was also a movie of The Outsiders directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1983. The movie helped, or in some cases launched, the film careers of Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estavez, Diane Lane, and Tom Cruise; C. Thomas Howell played Ponyboy, but he did not have achieve the same celebrity status as the rest of the cast.

The Outsiders marked a shift for YA literature by reflecting the crisis of adolescence in a manner that readers ages 14-21 found engaging and true. Once The Outsiders was embraced, the YA market was opened, and other books have followed in its powerful footsteps.

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