Is it possible to fall in love with the characters in a book? The book itself?
I remember the day I met The Outsiders. It was check-out day in the school library day, sixth grade, and I needed a book. Mrs. Sprouse, our librarian, had combed the shelves for another horse novel, but there wasn’t one left I hadn’t read. I spotted a hardback with a white cover lying on its side on a shelf it didn’t belong on. I’m not sure why I was drawn to it. Maybe it chose me.
As soon I read the first page, I was mesmerized. It has shaped me as a teacher, as a writer, and as a human being.
Here’s my list of 11 Ways:
1. The main character Ponyboy Curtis spoke to me. He shared his thoughts and feelings with me. I knew where he was coming from. I knew what it was like to live on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. He was a good student—so was I. He saw the good in people—so did I. He was a dreamer who liked watching sunsets—so did I. I learned how to get “into” my reading as I made this connection.
2. Maybe Ponyboy became an extension of myself. I learned to see the good in me.
3. This book made me feel as no other book had ever done. My emotions ran the gamut. Ponyboy appealed to my rational side. He was a thinker, but his older brother Darry was a doer, who was too busy raising his younger brothers after their parents died than to sit and appreciate the beauty of sunsets the way Ponyboy did. Darry used to bake chocolate cakes for his brothers and keep them in the refrigerator. (To this day, that’s my favorite desert—and on those rare occasions when I treat myself to chocolate cake, I have to keep it in the refrigerator. )
4. I guess Darry reminded me of my father, always doing the responsible thing. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for me.
5. I love people. I love all types of people. I love taking care of people. When I take care of people, I have purpose. The other characters made me long to take care of them. My heart ached for them:
- Dallas (the thug who provoked the police with an unloaded gun and made them shoot him because he couldn’t carry the hurt he felt after Johnny died)
- Johnny (the underdog, abused by his parents and tormented by the Socs, who risks his life to save the children and who encourages Ponyboy to “stay gold”)
- M&M (the innocent little boy who later overdoses on LSD in a drug house and is never again the same)
6. As much as I identified with Ponyboy, it was Sodapop who tugged at my heart. Unlike Ponyboy, Sodapop dropped out of high school. There was no one to encourage him, no one to one to tell him to follow his passions.
I wanted to be the one.
He made me want to be an encourager. He did what he had to do to help support his family. He was good at working on cars, so he took a job at the gas station. Sodapop was always happy, always thinking of others. I think that’s why I fell in love with his character.
7. Throughout The Outsiders, Sodapop is the character who gets “drunk on just plain living” and “understands everybody.” He wears his hair long, possesses dark brown eyes that are “dancing, recklessly laughing, and “can make you grin no matter what.” He is the peacemaker, the one who holds everything together in the family. Who wouldn’t be drawn to Sodapop? He helps all of us see the good.
8. Hmmm. Is it possible to take a character from your childhood with you to adulthood? I think the spirit of Sodapop shows up in some of my characters.
9. The Outsiders changed my life. Back then when I was in sixth grade, I didn’t understand how. I certainly didn’t understand why. But it made me want to read.
10. The Outsiders also made me to write, to “write real,” the way S.E. Hinton did. (She was only 16 when she wrote The Outsiders.)
11. Most importanly, once I finished the book, I refused to return it to the library, and I slept with it under my pillow each night. I carried it with me everywhere I went. It touched my heart so profoundly that I didn’t want to let it go.
I still don’t.
What book changed your life?