Banned Book Week: The Outsiders

It blows my mind that people want to ban The Outsiders.

Sure, it's set among a bunch of freely smoking, drinking and cussing "greasers." There's fights galore, a casual attitude to petty theft, a murder and and unseen unwed teen pregnancy, but seriously? The Outsiders? All the characters are just so darn nice. They have names like Ponyboy and Soda Pop. They quote Robert Frost at length. They're loyal and heroic. They stand up for their buddies. The whole thing is about innocence and sacrifice and the value of living and being better than you're surroundings. It's downright earnest.

 I swear, the idea of someone wanting to ban The Outsiders is like the idea of someone wanting to kick a puppy.

Ok, to back up, maybe a brief synopsis is in order.

The Outsiders follows the Curtis brothers (Ponyboy, Soda Pop and Darry) and their friends. We're in Oklahoma in 1965. The brothers have lost their parents and are living on their own, doing the best they can. Darry is the oldest, a hardworking roofer. Soda Pop works at a gas station. Ponyboy is the sensitive dreamy one. The smart one. The Curtis brothers and their friends are part of a group (calling them a gang seems like a bit of a stretch to me) of lower class kids called greasers, for their long greasy hair. Some of the greasers are criminals, some are pretty rough, but the book makes it clear that Ponyboy and his brothers aren't like that. They know criminals, but they aren't criminals.

The greasers are eternally at war with the Socs, the madras wearing rich kids from across town.  One day, Pony Boy and his friend Johnny Cade get jumped and nearly killed by a pack of drunk socs. In a effort to save Pony Boy's life Johnny stabs one of the Socs and kills him. The rest of the story follows their time as fugitives and what happens when they return to town to face up to what they did.

Why do people try to ban it? Oh, the usual reasons. Language. "Immoral" behavior. Drinking. Smoking. Surface things, you know? The veneer that rests over the book, not anything the book is saying or advocating. Not it's content.

Funny how often it seems like would be censors are obsessed with surfaces over content.  Like with To Kill a Mockingbird or the Harry Potter books or so many others, The Outsiders carries absolutely unimpeachable moral lessons, but because they contain some bad words or a veneer of bad behavior it becomes suspect. As if to merely depict these things is to endorse them.

Maybe it's a function of how rare it is for censors to actually read the thing they want to censor. If people did actually read this book I think they'd find it has a great and well written cast of characters and has great things to say about friendship and hope and how to live well in rough circumstances. I think the book also has interesting things to say about the struggles between the classes, something we don't get alot of in American books, especially written realistically in a book for teens. (Sidenote: is it possible that the frank discussion of class also makes censors uneasy? My guess is a big yes)

Oh, and I would also be remiss if I didn't note that the movie made from this book is absolutely fantastic. And I say that without a trace of irony.  It keeps very close to the book and features a stellar cast of actors and beautiful golden hued direction by Francis Ford Coppola.

So get out there everybody and read a banned book this week. Send a statement to to the censors that these books have value and a vital place in the lives of teens and adults alike.

Do it for Johnny!

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch


Renae said...

Awesome post Elana! The idea of banning The Outsiders is crazy. I was shocked when I saw some of the books on the banned list. I think others that haven't seen it for themselves would be as well!

Anonymous said...

I love THE OUTSIDERS! I also taught this book when I was a middle school language arts teacher. My students loved it. It's real. The characters are likable and they don't promote any of the "negative" behaviors the censors are challenging. I completely agree that the people who try to ban books most likely don't read the books. They hear certain things are in the books and then they start complaining without actually knowing what they are complaining about. I think the whole thing is absurd. Movies show much worse all the time, so why are books being attacked?

S.A. Larsenッ said...

I almost used that exact photo on Oasis for YA last week. The Outsiders was going to be my example. I talked about books/movies that show a range of teenage arcs and what it means to be a teen.

THE OUTSIDERS is an amazing example of YA lit. It's one of the few that I cherished reading in junior high.

Kelly Polark said...

One of my favorite books ever. I read this with my 11 yr old this year. I was uncomfortable with the glorified smoking, but so what. So we talked about the dangers of smoking afterward! These kind of books only call for intelligent, needed discussions with your child. Ponyboy is probably my favorite book character, so many good qualities.
Why can't I remember the teen pregnancy????? Who was pregnant?
Stay gold, Elana!

LM Preston said...

Ban Outsiders? You're kidding right? This was one of the ONLY books I could get my son to finish on his own. He didn't put it down, not once. He even saved the book and re-read it! No wonder most of the books I purchase are banned :-D

B.E. Sanderson said...

Great post, Elana. What always gets me is seeing Fahrenheit 451 on the banned book list. It sounds like the kind of stupid joke I always laugh at.

Angie Smibert said...

Great post, Jeff. I've always loved the golden-hued movie of the Outsiders. It's really hard to understand banning this book. But, then again I don't understand so many things. ;)

Laura S. said...

I love The Outsiders!!! The ending has such hope; how can someone ban that??? I recently saw the movie for my first time. It's a pretty good adaptation! It's funny seeing big-name actors today in one of their first movies. :)

Colene Murphy said...

Might need to definitely read this one. I had heard of it, just never picked it up. But it sounds really really good!
Excellent post too!!

Sarah Ahiers said...

i have such a deep deep love for The Outsiders. It helps that i love themes of redemption and all that junk.
And yes, i love the movie just as much as i love the book

Myrna Foster said...

My daughter just read it for her 6th grade reading class, and she liked it. It's been a long time, but I remember liking it too.

Paul W. West, Author said...

I read Outsiders several years ago. This makes me want to read it again. It sounds a lot like my novel, as yet unpublished.

Kate Larkindale said...

So many of the books on the banned book list just make me go WTF? But The Outsiders? I totally fell in love with this book when I was 12. It's the book that made me start writing. I still love it and go back to it every now and again, and wonder how she could have written such authentic teenage voices without using any swear words...

Riv Re said...

I find the whole idea of banning books insane. We have Freedom of the Press. And then the reasons? I see the same excuses over and over for banning books.
Language-this is America 2010, people! If you want to complain about bad language, ban high schools!
Explicit Content-This is America 2010! You don't need books to get explicit content, turn on the TV. Ban TV and pregnant famous people!
Unsuitable for age group-if you don't agree with the age group, then in your own mind you can classify it as adult, or whatever!
Drugs/Alcohol/Theft/etc-see all of my above reasons.
*steps off soapbox*

Jeff Hirsch said...

So glad that everyone shares my enthusiasm for The Outsiders. It really is great stuff. Amazing that this was SE Hinton's first book and was written when she was just in High School herself, right?

It's also a really great case study for turning a book into a movie. It may be blasphemy to say but I think Coppola makes some really cuts in the story that tighten things really well. I think looking at the economy of how he treats the beginning and end of the book is pretty instructive when thinking about editing as a writer.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Great post. And thanks for telling me about the book. This banned book is definitely going on my To Read list.

Jen said...

Yet another banned book I've yet to read. Not because of it's reputation, just because so many books vie for my attention.

I love what you said, that the censors don't read the books they want to censor. That's so true. I've never met anyone who wants to ban, say, Harry Potter who have actually read them. I find that so very ignorant.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

i love the outsiders its my favorite book and movie. i strongly believe banning this book was stupid because it teaches kids what the real world is full off. i am 17 and reading this when i was in middle really changed my life because still today we have problems with drugs and people with money thinking their better then people without money. i will always look back at this book for help on everyday life.