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Tag Archives: Robert Cormier

Exploring the classics: The Outsiders, SE Hinton

1967 cover art for The Outsiders

The Outsiders

Published in 1967 when its author was just 17 years old, The Outsiders tells the story of 14-year-old greaser Ponyboy as he navigates the class conflicts that arise from being orphaned and disenfranchised in post-war America. The book was adapted for the big screen in 1983 and as a stage play in 2006. SE Hinton wrote the novel to address the lack of novels that she wanted to read:

One of my reasons for writing it was that I wanted something realistic to be written about teenagers. At that time realistic teenage fiction didn’t exist. If you didn’t want to read Mary Jane Goes to The Prom and you were through with horse books, there was nothing to read. I just wanted to write something that dealt with what I saw kids really doing.

theoutsidersbookandmovie.com

Kimberly Reynolds, author of Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction, notes that until the nineteenth century, ‘fiction had identified the liminal space occupied by teenagers as belonging to girls and women’ (p. 74). In these books – think Little Women and What Katy Did – female characters in their teen years do not graduate directly into the adult world of work and/or matrimony but are allowed the opportunity to exist in a space in between adulthood and youth, learning and growing and being prepared to take on adult roles*. The post-war period saw the concept of the teenager entered the cultural consciousness. During this period YA as a genre rose to prominence and lent authenticity to adolescent experience in the face of a conservative ruling-class ideology.

SE Hinton’s four novels, The Outsiders (1967); This Is Now, That Was Then (1971), Rumble Fish (1974) and Tex (1979), and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (1974) among others, form part of this generic shift. These books, which recognise the volitily of teen-hood for boys, foreground the adolescent crisis of identity by offering romantically isolated protagonists navigating social and political power dynamics, usually from position of alienation and oppression. These entwicklungs- and bildungsroman are probably best exemplified by JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Like The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders is a first person, highly subjective narrative delivered by its protagonist. The prose is unpolished and occasionally immature, lending authenticity to the more unbelievable or at least extremely convenient elements of the plot, the dei ex machinis that might otherwise engender a tired eye roll instead fly by almost unnoticed and without the least  blip in the readers suspension of disbelief.

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What I learned about trends at 9.20 AM in WH Smith

Robert Cormier Heroes

This train station vendor of books – I refuse to call them booksellers – is a queer creature. Essentially news agents, they provide bleary-eyed commuters with their daily paper and weekly NME, Grazia or Take A Break and weary travellers with limp, underfilled sandwiches only marginally less overpriced than those for sale on the trains.

The WH Smith branch in which I find myself this bright Thursday morning has a large book section taking up just under half of the small train station concourse store. Their stock-in-trade is bestsellers – books with NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE emblazoned over the Hollywood-perfect cover photo. Gaudy yellow easy-peel stickers advertise three for £10 deals on every other title. TV tie-ins and pocket-sized dictionaries dominate the reference section, travel guides and pop psychology the non-fiction section.

Children’s titles are consigned to a corner. The shelves are messy and confused. Books in on the adult shelves are organised by genre and then alphabetically, with at one copy of most titles displayed cover-on, the better to entice the casual purchaser. Not so in the children’s section. There is no sense that I can see in the arrangement; tall and thin science and maths workbooks sit beside vampire romance fiction for the 11-16 crowd, written hastily to ride on the coat tails Stephenie Meyer’s odious Twilight series. CBeebies tie-ins jostle beside My First Encyclopaedia and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE).  A Latin translation of A Bear Called Paddington, ordered by some over-eager assistant buyer, languishes dustily at the back.

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