This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton
Yet one more book about young people growing up with difficult odds…My mother-in-law was visiting this weekend, and she expressed weariness at so many stories dealing with heartbreaking adolescent environments, and I have to admit I’m feeling much the same. I know there are other types of books on the 50Nifty list, but lately it’s felt “coming-of-age” -heavy. And they’re heavy coming-of-age books, too; full of abuse, hardship, and death. I first read The Outsiders when I was in middle school, and while I remembered someone called “Ponyboy,” I didn’t remember much else; confusing The Outsiders with members of the Sharks and Jets from West Side Story and the Greasers in Grease. After reading this book again, I was struck by the difference between knowing a character as an individual and knowing a character merely as a member of a group. Something powerful happens when we glimpse the individual person in another that doesn’t usually happen when we identify him or her by his or her group, which is an important lesson for middle schoolers and an important reminder for the rest of us. I was also touched by the very end of the book in a way that I didn’t expect to be; I don’t want to give anything away in case you’re planning to re-read it sometime soon, but I took something away that I didn’t remember from my younger reading.
As for the 50Nifty list, this is a pretty iconic book, and it does take place in Oklahoma, so for those reasons it’s a good pick, although the environment itself wasn’t quite a character in the same way as in some other novels on the list. I can’t help but wonder if a “frontier” book of some kind would have been a better pick, but then again, the feel of a state is not always/only about its countryside, I suppose.