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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: The Best YA Novel Ever!

November 24, 2013

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Maybe I’m not the best person to judge young adult fiction.  I’m almost 50.  I’ve read so many books (or pretended to have read so many books) that most of them no longer hold my interest.  Stuff that seems new to a YA reader is already stale to me, and a lot of current YA fiction is really stale and poorly written.  You can make the argument that anybody who has ever shouted “GET OFF MY LAWN!!” should never judge a YA novel.  And I’ve shouted “GET OFF MY LAWN!!” a lot.  I like shouting “GET OFF MY LAWN!!”  Sometimes I even shout “GET OFF MY LAWN!!” when nobody is on my lawn. 

The reason this matters is that a website for a weekly entertainment magazine has been conducting a poll of its readers for the best YA novel of all time.  Normally, I don’t care for lists like this, but the format was intriguing, starting with 32 YA novels, pitting two against each other in brackets (like the NCAA basketball tournament), and readers chose which novel continued to the next round. 

The problem with this poll (of course there would be a problem) is that readers are picking their favorites rather than which novel is actually the best.  When choosing the best, I like to have standards.  Even though I hadn’t read all 32 novels, I’d read most (which surprised me).  So I decided what the standards of the best YA novel should be, and from there, decided which novel best fit the criteria. 

And after much consideration (“much” meaning “a few minutes of”), I decided that The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is the Best YA Novel Ever! 

First of all, The Outsiders has been around for awhile.  Maybe half the novels on the website’s poll list were less than ten years old.  If a novel is fairly recent, it can’t be considered best ever yet because it hasn’t been proven that it will last.  I’m not saying that nobody will read The Fault in our Stars or The Hunger Games or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 45 years from now, but I bet that at least one of those novels will be forgotten by then.  I’m not saying any of them should be forgotten, but I bet it will happen.  The Outsiders is over 45 years old and going strong.  I bet that 45 years from now, people will still be reading The Outsiders

A “Best YA Novel Ever!” should also have been originally written for young adults.  Novels like To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender’s Game have been around for decades, but they were originally written for adults.  To Kill a Mockingbird even won a Pulitzer Prize, and that was before the YA genre even existed.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book, but just because the main character is a kid doesn’t make it a YA novel.  The Outsiders was originally intended for young adults, so it’s truly a YA novel. 

Also, The Outsiders is more literary than people think, with a surprising number of references to works like Alice in Wonderland, Great Expectations, and the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  These references may be lost on most YA readers, but it adds a depth to the book that adults (and really smart young adults) can appreciate.  Most YA books have no literary references and are simple straight forward stories.  There’s nothing wrong with a simple straightforward story for a YA novel, but one like that shouldn’t be “Best Ever!” 

Even though The Outsiders takes place in the early 1960s, it has a relevance that most YA novels don’t.  Everybody can relate to something in The Outsiders, even adults.  Everybody relates to the greasers.  I knew a lot of kids that were like the greasers when I was a kid, and I despised most of them in real life, but I empathized with them in the book.  As an adult, if I saw a greaser in my yard, I’d yell, “GET OFF MY LAWN!” but I’d still empathize with them if I read the book again. 

Maybe a movie shouldn’t influence the novel’s placement in a Best Ever!” list, but The Outsiders movie had Patrick Swayze in it.  Everybody loves Patrick Swayze.  Yeah, Tom Cruise was in it too, and everybody hates Tom Cruise now, but our love for Patrick Swayze overrides our disgust for Tom Cruise, so the movie is still a positive.  Even better, when The Outsiders movie came out, nobody walked around outside the theaters with “Team Greaser” and “Team Soc” t-shirts either. 

Even though I chose The Outsiders as The Best YA Novel Ever, it’s not even my favorite YA novel.  I enjoyed reading several other books (Ender’s Game, To Kill a Mockingbird, The House on Mango Street, The Hunger Games) way more than I enjoyed The Outsiders. But I also know that there’s a difference between “favorite” and “Best Ever!” 

Readers and voters from the poll on the weekly entertainment magazine website may disagree with me, but that’s okay.  If they had agreed with me, I wouldn’t have had anything to write about today.  And writing about this kept me from yelling “GET OFF MY LAWN!!” today.  And kids throughout my neighborhood are happier because of that.  But they should still get off my lawn and read The Outsiders.

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10 Comments
  1. Sierra Gilbertson permalink

    What’s great about this book is its timelessness. I have 6th grade students this year who fell in love with it.

  2. I should probably try reading The Outsiders soon.

  3. Not to mention it was written BY a young adult.

  4. Proof that an old man does enjoy to wag his tongue.

  5. Love the Outsiders film.

  6. I first read The Outsiders in 7th grade – Mr Rossi, the teacher, was quite distractedly handsome so anything that we read had to overcome those odds. The Outsiders met that challenge. I agree with your assessment.

  7. Great points. Books like Outsiders (and most of the S.E. Hinton stories) were written directly for YA. In my opinion, it was close to the genesis of the genre. You have done a wonderful job bring the points of modern YA literature and introducing (in some cases) some works that many younger readers may not have experienced.

    I did find it interesting that Ender’s Game and To Kill a Mockingbird is now being considered YA literature.

    -Jerry B

  8. samjayfox permalink

    I loved this book when I was in middle school. The raw power of struggling youth looking for purpose. Ponyboy incorporated all of my teenage angst. Also, one of Hinton’s other great books, That was Then, This is Now is another favorite of mine. She writes with a blunt point, and every emotion is like getting hit with an dully sharpened ax.

  9. I love that you distinguished between favorite and best ever. Such an important difference but often overlooked in lists like this.

  10. My favorite too.

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