Susan Eloise Hinton was born in 1950 (Wikipedia says 1948, but also says a bunch of untrue things about my Grandfather, so I’m inclined to believe my other resource. Apologies if I’m wrong) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and began work on The Outsiders in 1965, which means she was 15 years old when she wrote the book that basically re-invented the genre I am now trying to break into. She wasn’t writing for kids, or for adults, but that foggy in between place where most are regularly catapulted between obnoxious grandiosity and incomparable unbearable tinyness.
I remember exactly where I was when I read The Outsiders for the first time. At the age of eleven, I had my first “boyfriend”. My hair was so short that people kept referring to us as “the boys”, which always brought tears to my eyes, and my stomach hurt whenever he tried to hold my hand. But really, I didn’t even have boobies yet. And even though he made me so happy I was close to vomiting every time he came near me, the thought of a tongue in my mouth was still enough to make me dissolve into laughter and roll around on the floor at its absurdity. As a hot, English, much sought after thirteen year old, he was just way too advanced for me.
Anyway, we were kind of stuck together since our parents were busy chanting on a nearby hill for three weeks. We were left to our own devices all day with not much to do except roam and get into trouble. Robin, that was his name, was getting cranky about chasing me around, and I was feeling skittish, so one day I found myself a tree, away from everyone else. I grabbed a book, that happened to be The Outsiders, out of the pile my mom had provided, bracing myself for the unknown.
I opened the first page, and I kid you not, did not reemerge until I had read every damn word. Bawling, thirsty and starving, I made my way back to the retreat. I was so exhausted that I passed out immediately after dinner.
That’s how Ponyboy, and Johnny, and Dally (always most especially Dally) became permanent members of my psyche. I couldn’t tell you anything about the writing because I don’t even feel like I read it. Really, I saw it, and felt it. And thus my obsession with the bad boy was born. Damn.
I knew that the book was written by a teenager, it said so on the front, but when my mother, who was an English teacher at the time, saw me clutching it and offhandedly announced that S.E. Hinton was a girl, my whole universe rearranged itself. I was from the land of Little Women, of A Little Princess, and had reached forward to dabble in the Brontes, but this was a whole different thing.
How could a girl just a few years older than me have thought of such a cool story, and with all those boys? How did she sit down and get all of that on paper? It made me feel all the pressure that a brilliant mind has always made feel, except this time the writing was so salty, so gritty, so yummy in every way that my head wanted to explode with possibility.
I did a little research for this, and came to find that she wrote a book for grown ups, called Hawkes Harbor a few years ago. I’m definitely reading that as soon as I can get my hands on it.
She’s a recluse, so she’s hard to pin down personality wise, but I know that she’s been married since 1970 and that her son worked on the Ice Age movies. She’s my parents’ age now, of course, but I got a picture in my head when I was eleven, one that has stuck with me all these years. Without internet to help me, and without pictures (publishers didn’t want anyone to know she was a girl, so they never included photos), I was left to my own devices.
In my head she was in a jean jacket with a kind of Christy McNichol scrappiness. She smoked, and cursed and could hang with the boys, but she was the smartest and the best. She was Ponyboy, but a girl. I don’t know if any of that is true, but when I finally found a young picture of her, it didn’t seem so far off.
She is a pioneer, and she changed the way I thought about…everything.