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Review: “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders remains one of the most popular books for young adults despite being written in the mid-1960s. I recall my 8th grade study hall talking loudly about the book before we settled into our homework. Even my husband kept his copy of the book with Sharpie arrows on every few pages. Bearing in mind the harsh reality S.E. Hinton describes, I had to reread The Outsiders and see how the values jive with faith.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

One of The Outsiders strongest qualities is its unflinching depiction of reality. I cried for the last 80 pages of the 180 page book because I felt completely immersed in Ponyboy’s world. Because we walk in Ponyboy’s shoes as we read, we see the beauty and strength hidden in gangs and switchblades. This group of young men with various rough backgrounds came together as a family. Their main concern was protecting and providing for the other members of their gang.

We also learn of our common humanity along with Ponyboy. In a conversation with the Soc Cherry, Ponyboy says, “‘That’s why we’re separated,’ I said. ‘It’s not money, it’s feeling – you don’t feel anything and we feel too violently,'” (p 38). We see the good and the bad of both sides. As Ponyboy explains towards the end, it came down to the person. Boys from the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks saved people, and boys from the ‘good’ side of the tracks jumped innocent passerby. The mature understanding of humanity Ponyboy gains ultimately fulfills Johnny’s advice to “Stay gold, Ponyboy,” (p 148).

Hiding in Church

Ponyboy tells us that he and Johnny used to go to church consistently. That stopped when they brought other Greasers with them who couldn’t sit still and caused a scene. Yet, in their time of trouble, Ponyboy and Johnny wind up back in a church.

Hinton doesn’t expressly bring faith into the story. Nobody runs around quoting scripture. A preacher doesn’t convert all the gangs into perfect, law-abiding citizens who never fight. And honestly, the book is better for it. The book would feel deceptive if these tough, complex characters suddenly turned into religious robots. Instead, the Greasers and the Socs grow in empathy and understanding. We see the personal aspect of faith reflected in how each person responds to death. God lovingly created each human being with their own strengths, weaknesses, trials, and temptations. Hinton does an excellent job recording it.

Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: Penguin Books, 1967.

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A Letter to the Church about Anxiety and Depression

Dear Church,

I prayed before I wrote this letter today. I read Psalm 23 and asked God what He would have me say about one of my favorite passages. When the thought of anxiety and depression came to mind, I said an extra prayer. I know only a fraction of all there is to know about mental illness – the causes, the symptoms, the treatments. I can only speak from my own experiences, but God gives us our story for a reason, and I’m doing my best to use it for good.

Psalm 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Growing up in evangelical culture and attending a contemporary Southern Baptist church, I heard plenty of exhortations to read my Bible, pray as much as I could, and go to church every week. When we spoke of sadness, we always ended with God is our joy! When we spoke of worry, we quoted Philipians 4:6-7 to “not worry about anything.” In fact, some said, it is a SIN to worry and not be content with God’s provision!

I was first introduced to the idea of anxiety and depression as a physical condition in my AP Psychology class senior year of high school. Synapses, neurotransmitters, hormones… I never knew so much of the body was controlled by the release of specific chemicals. What I did know was how it felt to struggle for breath and white-knuckle a steering wheel as I started driving over a small mountain I had not intended to cross in the pitch dark. I knew what tired felt like when I got home from a band-trip-turned sour and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and snooze. I knew how it felt to toss and turn and pray for hours at night but not fall asleep, and to do so for weeks or months at a time.

Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

I can’t say whether David ever struggled with anxiety and depression, but I think many people who have experienced mental illness could relate that heavy darkness to the “valley of the shadow of death.” Even so, David points to God as his hope in a horrible situation. God is not necessarily the almighty fixer in this passage. He is more than that. He is the reason David keeps fighting the darkness, the reason that David can lift his head when he really doesn’t want to. God doesn’t just take the problem away; He gets David through it.

To those in the church who would say that people struggling with mental illness should pray or read their Bible more, I ask that you consider 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul says,

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Anxiety and depression is not deserved or a consequence of not being faithful enough. Mental illness is a shard of brokenness in this fallen world, just like painful childbirth and weak bodies (Genesis 3:16-20.) Instead of piling more rules and guilt on those struggling with mental illness, we should embrace them and guide them to a wholistic approach to coping. We do not deny cancer patients medical treatment; we pray that God will extend the efficacy of the treatments and wait on Him to do a miracle. If the cancer does not go away, we do not blame the patient for being unfaithful; we learn to accept God’s goodness even if the healing miracle never comes.

Why don’t we do the same for mental illness?