Chocolatespoon: Emily’s Musings

YA 2&3: The Chocolate War and The Outsiders

Posted on: November 26, 2004

2 classic YA books today:

chocolatewar.jpgThe Chocolate War
Robert Cormier
Knopf Books for Young Readers; 30th Annv edition (September 14, 2004)
272 pages
Originally published in 1974

outsiders.jpgThe Outsiders
S.E. Hinton
Puffin Books; Reprint edition (November 1, 1997)
180 pages
Originally published in 1967

The theme today seems to be high school boys getting beat up, but despite that I actually found that I enjoyed both books a lot.

The Chocolate War tells the story of Jerry Renault who refused to sell chocolates in the annual school fund-raiser and sets off an all-out war involving a secret school society, the Vigils. It deals with how hard it is to stand up to the pressure of high school and how awful and mean kids can be. Jerry goes from being a bit of a hero to an outcast and a scapegoat by the Vigils with pressure from the acting headmaster who is in way over his head with the chocolate sale. There’s a sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War which I’ll have to check out as well to see what happens to Jerry, Archie, Obie, and all the other characters we met in the first book.

You may know The Outsiders more from the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola movie starring Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Patrick Swayze (which I’ll now have to go rent). The book came out in 1967 and has been one of the best selling young adult books of all time. The story is told by Ponyboy Curtis who lives with his two older brothers Darrel ‘Darry’ Curtis and Sodapop Curtis. Along with their gang of friends (Dallas ‘Dally’ Winston, Johnny Cade, Keith ‘Two-Bit’ Mathews, and others) they are “Greasers,” poor tough outsiders from the wrong side of town with long greased hair. Their rival gang, the rich “Socs” (Socials), like to beat up Greasers for fun, but Ponyboy comes to realize that they’re just guys too — and things are tough everywhere.

The best part of The Outsiders though was the additional Q&A at the end with the author, S.E. Hinton. She was 15 when she started writing the book, in response to a friend being beat up for being a greaser. I actually never would have guessed that the author was a woman, and apparently others felt that way too. Answering a question about why she uses her initials, she writes that her “publisher was afraid that the reviewers would assume a girl couldn’t write a book like The Outsiders.” She also talks about how shocking the book was at the time, responding that:

“I was pleased that people were shocked with The Outsiders came out. One of the reasons for writing it was that I wanted something realistic to be written about teenagers. At that time realistic teenage fiction didn’t exist. If you didn’t want to read Mary Jane Goes to the Prom and you were through with horse books, there was nothing to read. I just wanted to write something that dealt with what I saw kids really doing.”

Update: Plus, I learned from Dan Woog at the party that one of the big experts on YA, Sarah Herz (who wrote From Hinton to Hamlet), used to be an English teacher at Staples!

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