Ponyboy and his gang of long-haired Greasers are the lost boys of urban America. They have the freedom to do what they want without parental supervision, but are ultimately limited by their circumstances. They are intelligent boys with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It’s no surprise they resent the socs; the privileged kids with fancy cars and money to go wherever they want. Their rivalry is founded on prejudice and miss-directed anger. It’s a feud that’s been going on as long as Ponyboy can remember, but when the violence suddenly escalates he realises its more than just his pride and reputation at stake
The Greasers might have long-hair, leather jackets and a tendency to chain-smoke, but they are more than just the group of angry, troubled teens you might expect. Darry, Ponyboy and Sodapop’s eldest brother, has been left in charge of his two younger brothers after their parents’ death. He has had to grow up fast, and sacrificed his aspirations of a college scholarship to keep what’s left of his family together. Johnny Cade is a sensitive teenager whose alcoholic parents have beaten and neglected him. His only family are the boys in his gang and his vulnerability makes them especially protective of him, especially Dallas whose been toughened by prison and his time running with New York gangs. Two-Bit Matthews is the calming influence in the group, and has a penchant for stealing and a prize blade. Sodapop’s best friend Steve is fiercely loyal to his friend, and it’s a quality the book reveals is shared by them all. They are unwaveringly loyal to each other and sometimes that means getting into a fight or running into a burning building.
They feel like they’re looked down upon because of their run-ins with the law, but when they are given the chance to prove themselves they show that they are brave and prepared to do what others wouldn’t.
After a fight with a group of socs leaves Johnny and Ponyboy on the run, they find themselves taking refuge in an abandoned church, and it is as they sit there, away from the city and the gangs, Ponyboy starts to realise there is more to the socs than a rival gang. He sees them for what they are; boys who have their own problems too. It makes him question what all the fighting is for.
It’s easy to slip on someone else’s shoes and try them on for size, but often we’re too concerned about how our own fit. S E Hinton’s coming-of-age story is a poignant exploration of what it’s like to see things from the other side.