Although some of the Greasers would be quick to pick a fight with the Socials, Ponyboy generally tries to stay out of trouble in an effort to please his older brother Darry (who has been responsible for him since their parents died). But that doesn’t stop the Socs from picking a fight with him. Walking home from the movie theater one night, Ponyboy gets jumped by a few Socs, one of whom has a knife. Darry, their middle brother, Sodapop, and a few other Greasers come to Ponyboy’s aid and chase the rival gang away, but the incident confirms what Ponyboy already believed: the rich kids hate the poor, greasy haired East Siders so much that they don’t care how badly they hurt them–just like how they beat up Johnny and left him for dead a few weeks earlier. Socs are so rich that they have no problems, no responsibilities, and no consequences for their actions. The only way Greasers can defend themselves is to fight back. But when Ponyboy meets a couple of Soc girls at a drive-in and has a real conversation with them, he begins to realize that maybe they aren’t so different after all. The Greasers are walking the girls home when the Socs boyfriends show up. The girls manage to prevent a fight in the moment, but later that night the Soc boys catch up with Ponyboy and Johnny. When they try to drown Ponyboy in a fountain, Johnny pulls a knife and accidentally kills one of the Socs. Not knowing what else to do, Ponyboy and Johnny flee the city, knowing that nothing will ever be the same.
Once a popular realistic fiction novel, The Outsiders has become a YA classic. While the action of the plot centers of gang rivalries and violence, the thematic focus of the story is on the social differences that underlie these rivalries and the common coming-of-age experiences of balancing social and family pressures and solidifying a sense of identity. It is an exciting and thought-provoking novel, and short enough to entice reluctant readers. I don’t recommend the 1988 audiobook; it’s not the best performance. But I definitely do recommend the book itself, particularly to high schoolers.