The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

So, here’s the backstory for this famous YA novel, according to Wikipedia:

The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, first published in 1967 by Viking Press. Hinton was 15 when she started writing the novel, but did most of the work when she was 16 and a junior in high school. Hinton was 18 when the book was published. The book follows two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (pronounced by the author as soshes, short for Socials), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. The story is told in first-person narrative by protagonist Ponyboy Curtis. The story in the book takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965, but this is never stated in the book.

I read this book a long time ago, probably when I was in high school. This year, by the way, is the fiftieth anniversary of its publication date. Now, reading it forty or more years later for me, I am struck by several things about the novel and its author:

First, like everyone else, I am surprised and impressed that this book was written by a teenage girl. It’s a bit melodramatic, I suppose, but the voice of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old boy from the wrong side of the tracks, is pitch-perfect. I don’t think anyone would guess, who didn’t know already, that S.E. Hinton was a teenage girl.

Second, the book is about boys who are gang members from the lower socioeconomic class in a town in Oklahoma. The only thing Ms. Hinton had in common with her characters was her hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m fairly sure from reading her bio that Susan Hinton would have been more of a “Soc” than a “Greaser” when she was in high school. And yet she doesn’t make her Greaser characters into stupid stereotypes or even air-brushed, sympathetic victims. They are both criminals, to some extent, and scared kids.

Third, I grew up in West Texas in the 1960’s and 70’s, and although there were several social groups in my high school, I could identify with the social and socioeconomic tension between the two groups in this novel. We had what we called “rich kids” who held all of the leadership positions in the high school, were featured in the yearbook, and often spent their weekends partying and getting drunk. Then, there were the druggies, the goat-ropers or kickers, the band kids, and the smart kids. And the Hispanic kids mostly stuck together, as did the black kids. There was some overlap in the groups, but Hinton’s picture of poor kids and rich kids not understanding each other and not associating with one another is pretty accurate.

I watched the movie based on this book after I re-read it, and I would say that the movie script stayed very close to the book. I’m not sure that was a good thing because even though I didn’t get the sense of melodrama and sentimentality when I was reading the book, I did get that sense from the movie. I’m not sure why. Watch the movie along with Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story to get a feel for the Hollywood version of the rise of youth culture and youth rebellion in the fifties and sixties in the United States. If all of the kids weren’t exactly as alienated and rebellious as the kids in those movies and in this book, many of them were.

Anyway, The Outsiders is a good book, a tear-jerker, but also thought-provoking.

Venture at Midsummer by Eva-Lis Wuorio

I picked this book out of a bunch of ex-library discards because I had heard of the author somewhere. In fact, I have one of Ms. Wuorio’s books, To Fight in Silence, a fictional World War II story based on interviews with “hundreds of Norwegians who were training in Canada for the war, and dozens of Danish officials who were trying to explain their country’s predicament to the outside world,” on my To-Be-Read list. Someone, somewhere recommended the book to me, and I thought it sounded good.

So, Venture at Midsummer is set after World War II, maybe in the 1960’s; it was published in 1967. Lisa, a Finnish girl, has invited two boarding school friends, Gavin and Jordain, to spend the summer with her family in Finland, near the border with Russia, or the Soviet Union as it was called back then. The young people experience traditional Finnish customs such as a sauna bath and the celebration of Juhannis, Midsummer’s Day, and then they become involved in a dangerous journey across the border into Soviet Russia to help a new friend, Kai, pay a “debt of honor” to his guardian. The four teens kayak into a part of the country that used to be part of Finland, but was given to the Russians after World War II. There they find, of course, much more than they were looking for, and they learn to trust one another and work together as a team.

The setting in the borderlands of eastern Finland is particularly vivid and interesting since I didn’t know much about post-war Finland. I didn’t know that part of Finland was turned over to the Russians after the war or that thousands of Finns, given the option to swear allegiance to the Communist government of Soviet Russia, instead decided to leave their homes and make new lives within the new borders of Finland. In fact, I didn’t know much about Finland at all before reading this book, and now I know a little more.

I’m planning an around the world reading project, and I just realized that this book can be my first one for that project. I found this blog post about author Eva-Lis Wuorio and learned that she was a Finnish Canadian, having emigrated to Canada with her family when she was thirteen years old. I picked up another book by the same author from the same discard pile, Return of the Viking, and I’m looking forward to reading it. According to what I read, it’s a time travel book about some children who meet Norse explorer Leif Erickson.

Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M.M. Blume

Ms. Blume writes “odd and quirky”, and this one definitely fits that description. It’s funny at times, but the underlying situation, the 1960’s and a child deserted by her hippie druggie mother, is way too serious for a humorous novel. Throw in a voodoo queen in New Orleans, bullies in a fancy elite school for girls, naked people in Greenwich Village in NYC and in Haight-Asbury in San Francisco, an odd ranch with all-Chinese cowboys in Texas, an ever-present Brownie camera, and a bewildered aunt/guardian, and it’s a fun road trip sort of story, but fairly unbelievable and sort of sad in places.

I also kept thinking the story was ending, and then there would be one more episode, and yet another, and another. It felt as if the author didn’t know where to stop. Or maybe I just didn’t want to know as much as I did. The novel is all about finding home and making a family, but it took Julia and her aunt an awfully long time to get to that end, even though the book itself is not that long, only 180 pages.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed any of Lesley M.M. Bloom’s other novels for children, such as Tennyson or The Rising Star of Rusty Nail, you might also enjoy this odd and quirky entry. I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about.

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1967-68: Movies

Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris, reviewed by Lazygal, is a nonfiction history of the five movies that were nominated for Best Picture Oscars in 1968: Dr. Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and Bonnie and Clyde. I haven’t read the book, but I have it on hold at the library.

I’ve seen four of the five movies; I may have seen In the Heat of the Night. I did see a few episodes of the TV show that came after the movie. If I did see the movie, I don’t remember much about it. The Academy found it much more memorable: In the Heat of the Night won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1968.

The Graduate was the top-grossing film of 1967, and Bonnie and Clyde was probably the most violent and disturbing film of the year. I didn’t see either of those two when they first came out, since I would have been too young for the content of either. I did see them later on, but by that time The Graduate was already history, somewhat passé. And Bonnie and Clyde was, well, violent and disturbing.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was OK, a Sidney Poitier vehicle about racism and interracial marriage, but Poitier’s better film of the year was To Sir With Love, which starred the popular black actor as a schoolteacher in an inner city high school in London.

Dr. Dolittle was silly, with Rex Harrison as the doctor who could speak to the animals. He certainly couldn’t sing, and I don’t know why he ever tried. It didn’t matter so much in My Fair Lady, since Professor Higgins was such a pretender anyway. It made sense that he would only pretend to sing.

The film version of Camelot also came out in 1967, and it won three Academy Awards, but it was not even nominated for any the biggies: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director. If I were choosing the best film of 1967, I’d certainly choose Camelot over any of the above nominees for Best Picture. Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave were amazing and memorable as King Arthur and Guinevere, and the “messages” of the movie about temptation, pride, sin and imperfection are spot-on. The screen-play is based on T.H. White’s version of the King Arthur story, Once and Future King, published in 1958.

1967: Books and Literature

Published in 1967:
The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Set in the 1940’s, two Jewish teens, one Hasidic and the other orthodox, but less strict in his observance, develop a friendship that survives the vicissitudes of adolescence and changing times.
Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander. In this children’s fantasy novel, the fourth of five volumes in the series Chronicles of Prydain, based on Celtic/Welsh mythology, Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, searches for his true heritage. The book is a classic coming-of-age story set in the fantasy kingdom of Prydain.
Endless Night by Agatha Christie. One of my favorite Christie novels, this mystery/suspense story features neither Hercule Poirot nor Miss Marple, but rather stands on its own with its own fascinating characters. The title comes from a poem by William Blake.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Ms. Hinton wrote this classic YA novel when she was only sixteen years old.
Christy by Catherine Marshall. A wonderful, wonderful book that I have been unable to “sell” any of my young adult children on reading. Christy is an eighteen year old innocent idealist when she goes to the mountains of Appalachia to teach school in a one-room schoolhouse. By the end of the story she’s a grown-up woman who’s experienced friendship, grief, and love. I don’t know why I can’t get my urchins to read it.
White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher. I read these classic science fiction/dystopian novels when I was a kid of a girl. I remember them being quite chilling. Perhaps they’re due for a republishing in light of the current popularity of dystopian fiction.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. I remember when everyone was talking about the movie version of this horror novel. Major elements of the story were inspired by the publicity surrounding Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan which had been founded in 1966. The eponymous Rosemary basically conceives a child with Satan.
Where Eagles Dare by Alistair McLean. World War II action adventure. The movie based on this book, starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, is one of Engineer Husband’s favorites.
100 Years of Solitude, Cien años de soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Garcia Marquez was a pioneer in the genre of “magical realism”, a style that has since become quite popular in all sorts of literature. (Magical realism: an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world.) I need to go back and read this book in English because when I read it in college in Spanish I couldn’t tell the magical elements from my lack of fluency in the language.
Nicolas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. Nonfiction biography of the last Romanov rulers of Russia. For more books about this tragic family, see my post on Reading About the Romanovs.

1967: Events and Inventions

February, 1967. The U.S. launches Operation Junction City, its biggest assault yet against the Vietcong in Vietnam.

'Boeing 737 N751L' photo (c) 2008, SDASM Archives - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/April, 1967. General George Papadopoulos takes over the government of Greece in a military coup.

April 9, 1967. The first Boeing 737, a twin-engine narrow-body jet airliner, takes its maiden flight. As of December 2011, Boeing had built 7010 of this model airliner for use around the world.

May 22-27, 1967. Egyptian President Nasser declares the Straits of Tiran , between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas separating the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea, closed to Israeli shipping. He says, “”Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”

May 30, 1967. Colonel Ojukwu of the Ibo tribe in eastern Nigeria proclaims the region to be the independent republic of Biafra. European and U.S. citizens flee Biafra as Nigerian troops attack the breakaway republic.

'Che mural' photo (c) 2010, Pierre M - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/June, 1967. China detonates its first H-bomb in Xiang Jang, a remote area of southwestern China.

June 5-10, 1967. The Six Day War. The Israeli air force launches surprise air strikes against Arab forces. In a decisive victory, Israel takes control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

June 27, 1967. The first automatic cash machine is installed, in the office of the Barclays Bank in Enfield, England.

October 10, 1967. Ernesto “Che” Guevarra, Cuban revolutionary hero who helped Fidel Castro overthrow the Batista regime in Cuba, is shot to death by the Bolivian army while on a mission to spread the communist revolution to the rest of the world.

December, 1967. The first successful heart transplant is performed by Dr. Christian Barnard in South Africa.