in a sentence or so: in a timeless "us vs. them" set in the 1960s, the rival groups of the greasers and the socs experience ever-increasing tensions that eventually bubble over and result in death.
the book is narrated in a journalistic first-person style by Ponyboy Curtis. Ponyboy is a 14 year old greaser (lives on the east side, lower income) who lives with his two brothers, Darry and Sodapop. the Curtis boy's parents are dead, which means that they are all they've got left. well, each other and the rest of their gang. life is anything by easy for Ponyboy and the other greasers. especially for Ponyboy, who is a natural athlete and smart, he realizes he is against all odds to make something of himself. he sees the challenges his older brothers face in using their gifts - Darry has to stay home and make ends meet instead of going to college, and Soda, while genuinely loving his job as a mechanic, realizes that he wants more for his brother Ponyboy.
tensions between the greasers and the socs (short for socialite, the upper-class west side kids) have always been high strung, but after Ponyboy and another greaser are spotted with two of the Soc's girlfriends at the movies, it unleashes a rage and sets into motion a series of events that are tragic, intense, and challenging.
what struck me about this book was how much it felt like a character study. each time Ponyboy would discuss someone or introduce a new character, i not only got a description of their hair, eyes, dress, and any distinguishing features, but i also got an insight into the core of their being. each character, especially the greasers, were dissected and evaluated.
something that i really appreciated about this book was how Ponyboy dealt with the stress and trauma of the events. without giving spoilers, i will simply say that how he reacted to the tension and the fallout of the various confrontations fits into the character-study feel to the book overall. we see who Ponyboy really is in how he reacts to the intense drama, and we learn what sets him apart from the other greasers.
fave quote: "'You can't win, you know that, don't you?' And when I remained silent, he went on: 'You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before - at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn't prove a thing. We'll forget it if you win, or if you don't. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think it's the ones in the middle that are really the lucky stiffs...' " (117)
fix er up: okay - i realize i am totally in the minority here, but i thought this was slow, cheesy, and predictable (except for the realistic reaction to trauma near the end by Ponyboy). now, i realize that the value of this story is in what it represents (the struggle of us vs. them, overcoming obstacles, finding your true self, etc.) and that it is one of the most challenged books ever because of the repeated drug/alcohol/violence by young people, and i even know that it was written by the author when she was 15-16. that doesn't change the fact that i literally almost gagged when someone told Ponyboy to "stay golden" with his final breaths. yes - i know it was in reference to a poem and it was special...but that seemed cheesy beyond all belief to me. it's not that i don't think that thugs/greasers can't appreciate Robert Frost or even be a fan of sunsets, it just didn't come off as believable to me in this book - despite the fact that they are based on real characters (says S.E. Hinton).