I'm sure I'm the only one who's been living under a rock for the past few decades, but just in case I've had some company, this is the story of fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest of a gang of "greasers" living in Oklahoma in the 1960s. Their central conflict is with the "Socs," a group of rich kids with too much time and money on their hands.
The greasers have some pretty serious issues to deal with in their lives, but none of those issuses were added for shock value (I'm thinking of the movie Thirteen when I say this). Instead, we're given an honest and realistic portrayal of life as a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Granted, that portrayal may be slanted to get the reader to sympathize with the greasers, but it works.
What most impresses me about this book is that the author was fifteen years old when she started writing it. When I was that age, I couldn't see much farther than my plans for the coming weekend. And not only was Hinton young, but she managed a believable male voice. Writing from the opposite gender's point of view is something I've found even fully mature authors can have trouble with.
I watched the movie just a few months ago, and I've gotta say (beyond the horribly dated music) they did an excellent job with it. The book adds very little to the experience, although it does add some.
One of the main things I found in the book which I didn't glean from the movie (maybe it was there, but either I didn't notice, or I've forgotten since I didn't write it down) was the explanation for Johnny's line, "Stay gold, Ponyboy." I guess I always thought Johnny was basically just saying "stay cool," but there's more to it than that. Johnny is asking Ponyboy to retain the beauty of his innocence--to avoid being hardened by the harshness of reality, to hold on to the childlike tenderness in his heart. The wording came from this Robert Frost poem:
"Nothing Gold Can Stay"Now I finally understand why that guy from high school told me to "stay gold, Ponyboy."
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.