This was a great little book. It’s quite short at around the 150 page mark, but for being so short it packs one hell of a punch. It was first published in 1988, but the messages still translate to today’s world, making it just as important as it would have been then.
The story is narrated by a 14 year old boy called Ponyboy, and yeah, that’s his real name. It’s the name printed on his birth-certificate, as he tells several people. Ponyboy lives with his brothers Darry and…wait for it…Sodapop, another real name, incidentally. Their parents are dead, so Darry, the oldest of the three, looks after them. Darry is determined that Ponyboy will put his brains to good use and further his education, meanwhile Sodapop is a school drop-out and works at a gas-station. Sodapop is a lot more laid back, whereas Darry has taken on the role of parent and discipliner and often gives Ponyboy a hard time.
All three brothers are members of the gang known as the Greasers. Greasers are pretty much what you’d think, greasy haired and poor. They’re in perennial war with the rival gang, the Soc’s. The Soc’s are from the other side of town and are well-off and privileged, the opposite of the Greasers. This difference between the two gangs breeds hatred and resentment. The Greasers resent the Soc’s, whereas the Soc’s think they’re better than the Greasers. Above all else, each gang fears the other, and take steps to rid themselves of this fear.
From early on it felt like I was being told a very personal story and as each member of the Greasers was introduced, I felt as if I understood the gangs mentality a bit more. The whole experience of reading this book was very visceral and the characterization was excellent. A word of warning, it does get quite sad towards the end when events culminate.
Ponyboy made a huge number of astute observations which could be applied to many, if not all, of the social situations we encounter today. He showed a deep level of humanity and understanding that belied his age.
I would have appreciated a bit more detail and length, but a reason was given for this at the end of the book. Events also took a very abrupt shift from early on, so it was a little quick moving for someone like me who likes time to get to know the settings and characters quite well before things start happening.
All in all a very powerful book that stands the test of time and is worth picking up just for the lessons it imparts alone.