Book Club Review: “The Outsiders”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

Publishing Info: Viking Press, April 1967

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it, Serena got hers from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

Kate’s Thoughts:

It was my turn to pick the book for book club, and I knew right away that I wanted to to “The Outsiders”. Unlike a lot of middle or high schoolers in this country, I did not initially read this book when I was a teenager. When I turned eleven or twelve I made the transition to reading adult novels as opposed to those for the teenage set. My sister, however, had a copy, and I knew that she liked it. So I first read “The Outsiders” when I was in graduate school in my Young Adult Literature and Services class. So I wasn’t exactly at the right age demographic when I read it, but I loved it. A whole, whole lot.

Reading it again did not diminish my love for this book. I think that while it takes place in the 1960s, the themes of isolation, teen rivalry, violence, abuse, and loss are timeless and can still be applied today. It may be a fight between the poor greasers and the rich socs, but it could be any group at odds within a teenage community. S.E. Hinton wrote this book when she was a fifteen year old herself, and so Ponyboy’s voice is very authentic and rings very true. What amazes me is that this was written by a fifteen year old, as it definitely seems like it has a feel for these issues from that of one much wiser. Hinton wrote better than I ever did at age fifteen, I can tell you that much.

I also love how so many of the characters have fully realized personalities. To me the most fascinating and complicated characters are Darry, Ponyboy’s older brother, and Dallas (aka Dally), the head greaser in Ponyboy’s group. Darry is portrayed to a T as a boy who had to grow up too fast and raise his younger siblings when their parents died. I love how Darry’s frustrations come out, but so does his love, and while I’m sure as a teenager I would have been critical of Darry and how he reacts and relates to Ponyboy, as an adult I just want to sweet him up and give him a hug. And then there’s Dallas, the character with the biggest mouth, the worst attitude, and the most tragic core. I love that Dally has his awful and mean moments, but you know that he loves his friends, specifically the doomed Johnny, and has little to live for outside of them.

And finally, the theme of growing up, sometimes too fast, carries a lot of weight in this book. Johnny does so when he accidentally kills Bob the Soc. This strikes a sharp contrast to Ponyboy, who wants to grow up as fast as he can, and those around him, specifically Johnny and Darry, want him to cling to his childhood. To ‘stay gold’. The difference between Ponyboy and the other Outsiders is that he has that familial support in both his brothers Sodapop and Darry. Even if their family is hurting and broken, they still love each other, which ultimately, I think, saves Ponyboy from himself.

No it isn’t perfect. There aren’t many girl characters, and only one, Cherry, has any development to her character. And the scene with the church fire always seemed pretty over the top to me, though the consequences of it never feel melodramatic. Sometimes Ponyboy’s voice was grating, and while I know that he’s supposed to be a naive teenage boy it was a little hard to deal with how not self aware he was. But overall, these are quibbles.

Gosh. I love this book. Imperfect as it may be in some ways, I still love it.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Can I just write “what Kate said” and leave it at that?

Well, I guess I have a different story of when I first read it. Not much of a story, actually, but it was an assigned book in my highschool English class. Which meant I was forced to hate it initially. In reality, I didn’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t a book that I listed on any favorite lists. Honestly, looking back, I barely remembered anything from this book, so re-reading it for bookclub was a lot like reading it for the first time.

In all seriousness, really, what Kate said. I had similar feelings about a lot of the characters, specifically my love for Darry. As an older sibling, I think I naturally gravitated towards him. I don’t remember having any teenage angst towards him as cramping on Ponyboy’s style when I read it the first time, but I probably did. But as an adult, I just want to cry and rock him. (I only just now looked up at Kate’s review and saw that she said she wanted to hug him. We have the same mind!)

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As a literature major, I also enjoyed the heck out of the literary discussions in this. I had forgotten how many there were, between “Gone with the Wind” and the obvious “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I can see why they used this in my English class! Sneaky, sneaky. If we read this, maybe we’ll read those!

But it’s clear where the success of this book lies: the honest portrayal of life as a group of teenage boys. It’s amazing that a 16 year old young woman wrote this. The beauty, pain, growth, limitations, every aspect of what it would be like as a young man growing up in this situation seems to be touched upon. And with such frank honesty. There is no trying to hard. There is no morality story for the sake of a morality story. It simply is. And what it is is amazing. This book should be highlighted whenever people start falling down the rabbit hole for why it may be too challenging for a male author to write from a woman’s perspective or vice versa.

A few weaknesses for me: as a narrator, at times, Ponyboy could come off in a way that was off putting. But, this could be as much another example of an honest portrayal of teenagedom as anything else. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the bookended beginning and end of the story. This could also be something that I’m less tolerant of for having seen it done one too many times. At the time this book was published originally, I imagine I would have felt differently.

All in all, however, I really enjoyed “The Outsiders” and am glad that Kate forced to re-evaluate my rebellious teenage opinion.

Kate’s Rating 9: This book stands the test of time with its relatable characters and themes. It may not be perfect, but it’s imperfections are dwarfed by it’s merits.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very enjoyable and still a strong recommendation for teenagers and adults alike!

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of “The Outsiders”. The cast in this movie is fabulous, with youngster versions of Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, and Matt Dillon. And a not as young as the rest version of Patrick Swayze, who was, by book club consensus, the most attractive of all the Outsiders.

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I mean, really. (source)

The adaptation is a pretty faithful one, though the original theatrical release left out a lot of stuff that happens with Darry and Sodapop. Luckily, there is a director’s cut version called “The Outsiders: The Complete Novel” that adds all of this back in.

1. Who is your favorite Outsider? What is it about them that makes them your favorite?

2. What do you think of how this book is framed (as an essay Ponyboy is writing)? Does this work for you as a reader?

3. How do you feel about Darry as a character? What do you think of how he handles Ponyboy?

4. What did you think of Cherry and the other Socs? What function does Cherry serve in this book?

5. “The Outsiders” came out in 1967 and is seen as one of the first YA novels. Do you think that it holds up for a modern audience? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Outsiders” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Young Adult Realistic Novels”, and “Best Coming of Age Stories”.

Find “The Outsiders” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Book Club Review: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

Publishing Info: Penguin Classics, October 2006 (First Published in September 1932)

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: ‘I saw something nasty in the woodshed’

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Something I have come to learn as I’ve been reading more outside of my comfort zone is what kinds of books work for me, and what kinds of books just don’t. I really do have to thank our book club for picking books that I wouldn’t otherwise try out, as I do think that that makes me a stronger reader. Of course, this means that sometimes I just don’t connect to a book, and that is what happened with “Cold Comfort Farm”. And it isn’t the books fault. “Cold Comfort Farm” is just one of those books (specifically the ‘eccentric people living in the country being charming and strange as parody’ books) that I have no interest in. The same thing happened with “I Capture The Castle”. That isn’t to say that there weren’t things about the books that I did like. I really liked Flora as the protagonist. I liked that she was very smart and very determined, but I also liked that Gibbons was having a little fun with her and how clueless she was when it came to her privilege. Classism in Britain is so evident and prevalent in a lot of the literature and pop culture that comes from there, and when authors give a nudge-nudge wink-wink to it I find it a bit easier to swallow. Flora certainly means well and isn’t cruel by any stretch, but she is definitely cringe-worthy at times when she’s interacting with the people at the farm and looking through her very urban rose colored glasses.

I also have a feeling that a lot about this book was pretty transgressive when it came out. You not only have a woman coming in and taking over an estate, competently and kindly to boot, but you also have the same women bringing modern ideals and ideas, some of which are still controversial today. I was blown away when there was a scene in which Flora was encouraging Meriam, a farm hand who had just had her fourth unplanned baby, to look into using birth control when she and Seth Starkadder are hoping to give in to their urges. At first I wasn’t certain that that could have been what I was reading, and was very pleased when I confirmed that it was. But then of course for every progressive moment there were moments that betrayed the time period in their sexism and, yes, classism. There was another scene regarding Meriam, who became the object of affection of a bachelor named Urk who had previously been obsessed (And I mean creepily obsessed) with Flora’s cousin Elfine. There was a throw away line about Urk possibly dragging Meriam off and drowning her, but no one really knew, and who would care if he had? Given that Meriam has FOUR CHILDREN I feel like THEY would care. That didn’t sit with me well at all. Perhaps it was meant to be a part of the parody, but it didn’t feel that way.

This book wasn’t for me, but I do see it’s merits to be sure. If you like tongue in cheek books about country eccentrics, definitely check out “Cold Comfort Farm” because it seems to be a classic of the genre.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I agree with a lot that Kate said. Bookclub has been a great learning opportunity that has helped me refine my thoughts on what I do and do not enjoy reading. Before bookclub, I would have said that I enjoy almost all historical fiction, especially the kind about eccentrics living out in the British countryside. However, like Kate, I couldn’t get completely behind “I Capture the Caste” and had similar problems with “Cold Comfort Farm.” Perhaps celebrating Jane Austen’s complete collection doesn’t necessarily translate to loving all British, comedic novels.

For me, it was the same aspect of the book that both made and broke the story for me. I went into it knowing that it was written as a parody of similar romantic, pastoral novels that were popular at the time. And while I enjoyed the elbow-nudging humor this book used to critique the tropes of these stories, I was also unable to become truly attached to any of its characters for the same reason. They served their purpose in highlighting the more ridiculous aspects of the stories Gibbons set out to mock, but they were also distracting.

There are also aspects of the humor that I think are lost on modern audiences who do not have a strong knowledge of rural dialects in 1930s Britain. Apparently, Gibbons took the Shakespeare-route and dropped in several made up words. Words such as “mollocking” and “clettering.” This is a fun idea, especially since Gibbons apparently included this aspect of parody in her novel as an expression of frustration at other authors’ attempts to use phonics in their writing to capture local accents. Which is something I abhor as well. I’ll immediately put down any book that, say, is set in Scotland, and insists on having characters sprinkle in “didnae” or “woudnae” in their speech. Especially when the rest of their dialogue is unchanged. Maddening.

All in all, I struggled with this story, but I can see why it would have been very popular when it was published and can continue to be appreciated today. I actually enjoyed the book much more on a line-by-line basis. Maybe I could get a coffee table book version of it with some of the best witty lines? That I would really like. But as far as a story, I found it wanting.

Kate’s Rating 5: I definitely get why this book is beloved and a classic, but it wasn’t for me. Flora was enjoyable, but the story didn’t connect with me.

Serena’s Rating 5: Samsies. I think I had more fun reading about the book and Gibbons methods of mockery than I did reading the story itself, sadly.

Book Club Notes and Questions: 

The theme continues to be watching the movie adaptation of the book. The selection for “Cold Comfort Farm” (as there have been a few adaptations) was the 1995 version starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, and Joanna Lumley. Unfortunately, the copy that Kate had didn’t play, so she watched clips on youtube. The acting was good, the tone seemed true to the book, and Ian McKellan can really do no wrong as far as we’re concerned.

1. “Cold Comfort Farm” was written in the early 1930s. How do you think some of the themes (feminism, birth control, emotion vs reason) were received back when the book was published? Do they still feel as powerful in 2016?

2. Ada Doom is always saying “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” throughout the novel, though we never find out just what that nasty thing was. Do you think it should have been revealed? Were you happy it wasn’t revealed?

3. This book is a parody of British pastoral stories and melodramas. Do you think that it works as an effective parody of this genre?

4. Have you read other books in the genre that this book sets out to parody? Were you able to spot similarities to other stories like this, and if so, which books and how so?

5. What did you think of the ending? Were you satisfied with how everything got resolved?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cold Comfort Farm” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All Kinds Of Classics That Should Be Read At Least Once” and “Strong Female Characters Written By Female Authors”

Find “Cold Comfort Farm” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “City of Bones”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.”

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2007

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Serena’s Thoughts:

As the professed fantasy-lover on this blog, I feel like it’s a bit unfortunate that this happens to be the first fantasy novel I’ll be reviewing. Ah well! I will blame my bookclub friend who chose this as her selection for bookclub and leave the regret with that.

I approached this book with what can by only described as extreme trepidation. It’s a staple in the YA fantasy genre and one I knew I should be getting around to, even now, many years after its publication. Cassandra Clare is nothing if not prolific with her writing given the number of sequels and prequels she’s rolled out! And, alas, my trepidation was warranted. While I love fantasy and young adult novels, “City of Bones” was not my cup of tea, and by the end I was frankly skimming along.

Positives first! I can definitely see why this book took off the way it did. Clare’s writing is fast-paced, her characters are witty, and the story includes every fantasy angle a reader could ask for. Negatives? The writing is so fast-paced that the story seems frenetic, ALL the characters are eerily similar in their witticisms, and the story includes every fantasy trope there is in the book. Vampires! Werewolves! Zombies! Hidden fantasy world in a major city! Heroine is more than she seems! It was a bit much. Don’t even get me started on the tired love-triangle trope. *sigh*

And, full disclosure, I came into this book having heard about the trials and tribulations of Clare’s fanfiction history. And while I’m not here to delve into that, I read a good amount of Harry Potter fanfiction in my day, and Jace? Jace was fanfiction!Draco. Clary’s connection to Ginny was harder to spot which was only a disservice to Clary, as Ginny is by far a more appealing protagonist. Clary did grow on me towards the end of the novel, but it was a bit too little, too late. And honestly, “Twilight” has forever biased me against a YA novel where the heroine describes herself as “clumsy” within the first 20 pages.

If you haven’t read this book by now and are a completest about YA fantasy series, than purely for the sake of popular relevance, you might want to check this book out. But for me, I won’t be continuing on.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Gosh, I’m not even certain of where to begin with this book. I had heard of it around the time that it first came out, but since back in 2007 I hadn’t really discovered YA Fiction and since it hadn’t really taken off yet as its own industry I wasn’t interested in reading it. But then it was picked for our YA Book Club and I found myself finally about to fill the void that not having read it admittedly left in my YA repertoire. But having gone through it now, I think it probably would have been just fine if that void had not been filled.

My main problem with it is that even though it was probably one of the first series to do the things that it does, coming in almost ten years after it was published made the themes and tropes seem VERY old hat. I can’t say that I was a fan of Clary being not only the point on a love triangle, but also a ‘chosen one’ figure AND incredibly snarky and witty and quirky. These themes are so commonplace now that I can hardly abide them anymore. I do think that there is some potential in this world, however, as I think that the magical system does have a pretty strong foundation. The Shadowhunter mythology is something that does intrigue me. It’s just that the focus is too much on Clary and how special she is when she was convinced that she wasn’t special at all. I liked Jace enough as a character, though knowing that this story is derived from a Harry Potter Fan Fiction that Clare wrote made it all the more clear to me that Jace is really Draco Malfoy, at least what he is seen as within the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Fanon. It’s too bad, because I wanted to see more ‘Jace-ness’, less ‘Draco-ness’.

The most intriguing character to me was Isabella, a female Shadowhunter (apparently such things are rare in this world. Hi, mild sexism, how are you?) who comes from an elite family and is used to all the male attention being on her. So of course she’s going to be threatened by Clary, who is so plain yet all the boys love her. What I liked about Isabella is that she did have glimmers of being pretty interesting, and it was evident that she cared about her cause and those around her. I have nothing bad to say about Isabelle, and I would probably read the entire series if it was about her. I can definitely see why this book could and would appeal to teenage readers, though. I know that when I was a teenage girl living a pretty normal, sometimes stressful, life, I would have loved the idea of having a completely different life, with two hot guys in love with me and a set of special powers to boot. And besides, I’m pretty sure that this book wasn’t written for me. So all in all I can’t fault it too much for being what it is. I just think that it could have been better.

Serena’s Rating 3: Too many YA fantasy tropes, not enough substance

Kate’s Rating 4: Predictable and shallow, but had some merits

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We also watched this movie, per the instructions of this bookclub season’s theme. It was what one would expect. The cinematography was beautiful, it adhered to the plot as much as a movie can within its time frame, and it had many of the same failings as the book did. It also bombed in the theater which is actually a bit of a surprise given the series’ popularity and the fact that most popular YA book-to-movie adaptations have been met with success. Sadly, since a sequel is not in the works, movie-goers will be forever left with…that ending…you know the one I’m talking about…

  1. “City of Bones” came out in 2007, and is nearly ten years old. Given that YA literature has changed so much in that time, do you think that this story would follow a similar path if it were written today? If not, how do you think it would change?
  2. What did you think of the magical world and magical system that Clare created for her series? Did it feel well thought out and complete? Did you want more?
  3. Was Clary a relatable protagonist for you? Did you find it easy to sympathize with her? If not, how could she have been more relatable?
  4. If you have read the book and watched the movie, how do they compare? Were there choices that the movie improved upon? Failures of omission?
  5. This book was influenced by Cassandra Clare’s very popular Harry Potter fanfiction writing. Were there resemblances between this world and the Harry Potter world that were easy to spot? Did it stand well enough on its own?

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Bones” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All The Great Guys Books Have to Offer”, and “If You Love Harry Potter, Read These!” 

Find “City of Bones” at your library using WorldCat!