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!

 

Kate’s Review: “In a Dark, Dark Wood”

23783496Book: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Scout Press, August 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

In the tradition of Paula Hawkins’s instant New York Times bestseller The Girl On the Train and S. J. Watson’s riveting national sensation Before I Go To Sleep, this gripping literary debut from UK novelist Ruth Ware will leave you on the edge of your seat through the very last page.

Review: I’m sure that a lot of women and girls can relate to the concept of having the friend who overshadowed you when you were together. Though I try to be a more confident and self assured person now, in the past I’ve had a number of friends who always held more of the attention and admiration than I did, which led to a great deal of insecurity. So it should be no surprise that I felt very deeply for our protagonist, Leonora (or Lee, or Nora), in “In a Dark, Dark Wood”. As someone who tried to reinvent herself at least somewhat since those days, there were moments that I just wanted to hold my hand out to Nora and say “Girl, I feel you.” When I picked up “In a Dark, Dark Wood” I thought that I was going to be in for the usual kind of story that many thrillers of this type have been; anti-hero mess of a protagonist, lots of crazy twists and turns, lots of cynicism and not much joy. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that, outside of a few said twists and or turns, this book sloughed off the other trends without a care in the world. Nora is a character who does have some issues, but I found her to be extremely likable and relatable. I wasn’t actively rooting against her, like Amy in “Gone Girl”, nor was I actively cringing for her in awful, self induced terrible situations she was in, like Rachel in “The Girl on the Train”. With Nora, there were moments of ‘you need to get a grip’, but they were done in a way that just made her seem well rounded and multi-faceted as a character.

The plot of “In a Dark, Dark Wood” is fairly standard for this genre: a bunch of acquaintances find themselves in a situation that might have gone better if they actually knew and trusted each other, but as it is there is suspicion and doubt for Nora as she tries to piece together what happened. While the setting of a remote cabin with little to no cell service is kind of old hat, it never felt like it was trying too hard in this story. I will say that this story did have some predictable aspects to it, at least predictable to me. There were a couple of moments where I felt that Ware was hinting a little too hard, and that she was spelling things out so much that I figured out some pretty big twists before they were meant to be found. While it’s true that I didn’t figure everything out, it can be pretty frustrating to know where a story is going by the time you get to the big reveal. But that said, there were a lot of things that did keep me guessing, and even though I discerned a bit before I was probably meant to, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book. In fact, figuring some things out made it so I was distracted enough to be caught off guard by a few other things. That’s the sign of a good mystery, I think.

I also have to say that I liked the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but there was a certain amount of ambiguity to it, along with a bit of hope that a lot of these books really do lack when all is said and done. I choose to think the best of the possibilities, as while I’m cynical and snarky most of the time, I do like having a bit of hope in my life and in my literature. It was very refreshing to see some hope here, when so many books in this genre these days end with either no hope whatsoever, or with broken people for whom there will never be a total release. This one felt different, somehow, and I really, really liked that.

“In a Dark, Dark Wood” is a book that I cannot recommend enough for fans of thrillers. I think that this one could be and should be the most recent one to take off. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a quick, twisty thrill ride.

Rating 9: A twisty and turn-y thriller with great moments of suspense and mystery. Had I not called the conclusion about fifty pages before, it would have gotten a 10. But even so, I really liked this.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In a Dark, Dark Wood” is included in these Goodreads Lists: “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”, and “Psychological Thrillers”.

Find “In a Dark, Dark Wood” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Movie Review: “The Jungle Book” (2016)

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out the movie world as well. Today we reviewed “The Jungle Book.” We discuss the history of the stories, the changes this movie made, why we need more Kaa in our lives, and what Serena thinks of CGI talking animals. We also name drop almost every voice actor in the movie but failed to remember the actor’s name for the boy who plays Mowgli. For the record, it’s Neel Sethi, and he was amazing. Stay tuned at the end for our book recommendations if you liked this movie. (Titles also posted below).

Serena’s Recommendations:

Tarzan

“Tarzan of the Apes” and “The Return of Tarzan” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

 

 

Jane

“Jane” by Robin Maxwell

 

 

 

Kate’s Recommendations:

Julie of the Wolves

“Julie of the Wolves” by Jean Craighead George

 

 

 

Life of Pi

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Kate’s Review: “Perfect Days”

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Book: “Perfect Days” by Raphael Montes

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.
 
Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers.

Review: I honestly could not tell you what gave me the idea to pick up this book. I think that I saw it on a list on upcoming thrillers and when I perused the description I thought ‘sure, let’s give that one a go’. I’m also always on the look out for works that are of a more diverse kind, so when I saw that the author, Raphael Montes, is from Brazil, I was extra intrigued. But thriller? This is listed as a thriller? Because to me, as a woman, this is pure, unbridled horror. So I am going to call this book as such, this is a horror novel. This is a book where a crazy man, WHO IS THE MAIN PERSPECTIVE WE GET, stalks, kidnaps, and holds a woman prisoner in hopes that she will fall in love with him. Who decided this is a thriller? Lies. False. Now I’m someone who can take a lot of messed up twisted nonsense in her books. Hell, I read “A Clockwork Orange” when I was fourteen years old, not to mention a LOT of the Stephen King catalog at that age as well. But even this book gave me lots of moments of pause, and one moment where I just had to set it down and walk away after yelling out in pure, unadulterated unsettlement.

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This was basically me for about 2o minutes after the fact.

Teo is the worst, and he is supposed to be the worst, so Montes got his point across. But as much as he was worst and as much as reading this book gave me a serious case of the icks, I really, really appreciated what Montes did with it. Nay, I would go so far as to say that I even liked it. I liked it a lot. It wasn’t a pleasant experience reading it by any means, but it was visceral and it was scary as hell, and I really see what Montes was doing with the whole thing. Bully for me, I guess. What I liked about this was that by seeing this all through the eyes of Teo, we see his perspective and what he’s thinking and why he’s thinking it. But, along with that, Montes does it in such a way that you never, EVER, feel anything but disgust and contempt for him, and for everything he does to Clarice, the supposed girl of his dreams. I feel the need to put out there right away that what he does to her is awful and extensive, so I am going to set out a TRIGGER WARNING for violence against women and men alike, and a rape scene. You’ve been warned. Clarice, however, is a very interesting character even when seen through the unreliable eyes of Teo. She’s certainly a victim of a horrible crime and unspeakable acts at the hands of a psychopath, but what I liked about her was that she wasn’t merely a victim; she has moments of manipulation, moments of power, moments of getting the best of Teo and the upper hand. While initially I was worried that she was going to be one of those ‘I’ll save you with how interesting I am’ characters, and while she was at first, she very early on made herself her own person who is not anyone’s sex object, be it through the eyes of a blatant stalker sociopath like Teo, or even through just a nice guy who needs a jolt in his boring life. The brilliance of this was that Teo completely bought into the idea that she was going to be the one to save him from his dull life (A life, I might add, that involves spending waaaaaay too much quality time with a cadaver at his medical school. That he has named GERTRUDE), and exposes this ‘wonderful interesting savior girl’ fantasy for the harmful and misogynistic nonsense that, at its heart and in its most extreme form, it is. I would even go so far as to say that Montes rips it to shreds. The moment that clicked for me, my mind was blown and I had to have another moment of stepping away for a short while. I saw Clarice through Teo’s eyes, but I also saw her through my own, and the character that I got from her was very, very satisfying and someone that I cared about. I think that had this been a two hundred-some page book of her just being abused, I would have had to put it down. But there were a lot of mind games going on and power plays that simmered below the surface, which gave me hope that somehow she would eventually, totally, find that moment of empowerment and revenge.

I need to talk about that ending though. Without spoilers, of course. But I need to talk about it because I’m not really certain what to make of it. A lot of the reviews and notes I’ve read about this book say that the ending is incredibly, poetically unjust. And while part of me is inclined to agree with that, another part of me wonders if there is a bit of a glimmer of hope to it. I’m waxing poetic here, I realize, but there was one thing thrown out there that, if my own personal theory/interpretation is right, could completely turn the meaning on it’s head. I don’t know if it’s because I need to cling to hope in a book that is basically hopeless, but I see something there that makes me think that all isn’t what it seems by the time we turn the final page in this book. I think that Clarice is going to surprise Teo one last time, even if we as the readers don’t get to see it.

“Perfect Days” was a difficult read, and I wouldn’t recommend it willy nilly to just anyone. But while it made me feel gross and upset and deeply disturbed, I really, really liked it. Raphael Montes, I’m going to keep my eye on you.

Rating 9: A very well plotted and scary book, but not for the faint of heart. Trigger warnings all over the friggin’ place. Skip this unless you are prepared to be very upset.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Perfect Days” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Amazon Best Books of February 2016 – Combined Fiction” and  “What Women Born in the 90’s Have Read in 2016”. (Note: Okay let’s be real, it’s not on many lists yet. Tell you what, if you liked ‘Misery’ this will probably be reminiscent.)

Find “Perfect Days” at your library using WorldCat!