The Outsiders - 50 years on

Author S.E. Hinton outside the house used as Ponyboy Curtis' home in the 1983 film adaptation of her book The Outsiders. The home in Tulsa, Oklahama, is undergoing renovation as a part of a fan-driven project to turn it into a museum dedicated to the
Author S.E. Hinton outside the house used as Ponyboy Curtis' home in the 1983 film adaptation of her book The Outsiders. The home in Tulsa, Oklahama, is undergoing renovation as a part of a fan-driven project to turn it into a museum dedicated to the book, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.PHOTO: NYTIMES

The book by S.E. Hinton, arguably one of the most influential young adult books of its time, has inspired everything from a film to cafe to rock band album

TULSA (Oklahoma) • On a particularly windy day in the Crutchfield neighbourhood, writer S.E. Hinton was touring the renovations of the future Outsiders House museum. The rundown Craftsman bungalow was where the Curtis brothers - Darry, Sodapop and Ponyboy - lived in the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola movie based on Hinton's book The Outsiders.

The book, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, was arguably one of the most influential young adult books of its time, and leading this tour was the selfdescribed fanboy Danny O'Connor, 48, who made his own contribution to pop-culture history as a member of the 1990s hip-hop group House Of Pain.

Mr O'Connor, who lives in Beverly Hills, California, bought the Outsiders House for US$15,000 (S$21,100) last year, determined to turn it into a museum. During the recent tour, he was showing Hinton a first-edition hard cover of The Outsiders, pointing out a wide paper sash wrapped around the jacket that read in bright orange, "A remarkable novel about teenagers, for teenagers, by a teenager."

Mr O'Connor has been on a quest to find artefacts to include in the museum, amassing a collection of memorabilia from the movie, vintage photographs and hard-to-find editions of the book. Next on his search list, he told Hinton, 68, was a claw-foot tub like the one 18-year-old Rob Lowe (Sodapop Curtis in the movie) stepped out of with just a towel wrapped around his waist.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a book where boys are this emotional. They're crying, they're embracing, they're holding each other in bed.

MR DANIEL KRAUS, books for youth editor at Booklist, a review magazine published by the American Library Association, on The Outsider

"All the girls love that scene," Mr O'Connor said.

No matter that the book is 50 years old, or that the movie was filmed in this part of town more than three decades ago.

Once you are a fan of The Outsiders, you are always a fan of The Outsiders, which is why when Mr O'Connor posted about the tub on Facebook, it was shared over 220 times. Soon, there will be a tub.

Since The Outsiders was first published in 1967, more than 15 million copies have been sold. It is a constant on middle- and high-school reading lists and has been translated into 30 languages.

Fanfiction.net counts 8,100 stories based on the book.

The hashtag #staygold, which is inspired by a Robert Frost poem that appears in the book, is attached to more than 300,000 Instagram posts. Search the Internet for "stay gold" and you will find both the name of a cafe on the Jersey Shore and a Swedish rock band's debut album.

Hinton fields daily questions on Twitter from fans who ask: "What do you think when people say 'Stay golden' instead of 'Stay gold'?" (Answer: It makes her cringe.)

That The Outsiders has permeated the culture so deeply is still somewhat surreal to even the writer.

"The rest of my books I wrote, but The Outsiders was meant to be written. I got chosen to write it," she said. "That's the only way I can deal with it."

Hinton, who still lives in Tulsa, goes by Susie. In 1966, her editor Velma Varner suggested she use her gender-neutral initials out of concern that her given name, Susan Hinton, would "throw some of the boy readers off". She continued to use the initials, even in more recent publications.

When she was 16, after failing creative writing in her junior year of high school, she wrote The Outsiders. The teacher who failed her was not happy that she liked to mention this in every interview. She sold the book when she was 17. It was published when she turned 18. It has, quite literally, always been part of her life.

For Hinton, the book is something of a time capsule of her own emotionally driven teenage angst. "I think that's why it still resonates with teens because they feel like that," she said. "Your feelings are over the top. You're feeling and seeing injustice and you're standing up against it."

In The Outsiders, justice comes by way of class warfare between the greasers, a gang of poor teenage boys, and the Socs, the rich kids from the other side of town. What may be most remarkable about the greasers is their ability to show great affection and emotion despite the masculine-dominated cultural norm of the 1960s. In almost every chapter, someone is crying or on the verge of tears.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a book where boys are this emotional," said Mr Daniel Kraus, books for youth editor at Booklist, a review magazine published by the American Library Association. "They're crying, they're embracing, they're holding each other in bed." This adds to the greaser mythology, he said.

Dr Jennifer Buehler, an English education professor at St. Louis University, believes that the greasers' experience and their need to be seen as human, is similar to what many marginalised groups today are also trying to claim. "The fact that the character development is so strong in this book plays a crucial part in its power and its enduring relevance," she said.

For fans, it seems, the book's longevity is based on its relationships. Recently, the connection between Johnny Cade and Dallas Winston spawned a subset of fan fiction called slash, in which two male (or two female) characters are involved romantically. Some fans on Twitter in October became confrontational when Hinton disagreed with their interpretation that the relationship between Johnny and Dallas was a romantic one.

"I have no problem with anyone interpreting my books anyway they want," she said. "But I'm getting these letters that are, 'Just say you wrote it gay and I'll be satisfied.' Well, your satisfaction isn't at the top of my priorities. Fifteen years old in Tulsa, Oklahoma? The word was not even in common use. So, no."

It is possible that this new shift is simply an additional sign that The Outsiders continues to influence young readers. That after five decades, it shows no indication of becoming dated.

"I'm as amazed as anybody else that it's lasted as long," Hinton said. "So many people say to me after reading it, 'I'm looking at people differently now than I used to,'" she said. "Let's all quit judging each other."

NYTIMES

•The Outsiders is available at Books Kinokuniya from $19.80.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'The Outsiders - 50 years on'. Print Edition | Subscribe