I wish I could write like S.E. Hinton. Most of us read The Outsiders in middle school, the ‘60s classic about rumblin’ Greasers and Socs, which was written by Hinton when she was a 17-year-old high school student. But I wonder how many people knew that she has since published eight books and that four of her novels have been made into movies, two of which were directed by Francis Ford Coppola? For years I thought Hinton was a one-hit wonder, à la Harper Lee.
Well, I was wrong. Some of Tim’s Stories, published in 2007, showcases Hinton’s spare, intelligent prose. Mike is a bartender in his late twenties from rural Oklahoma, and has been inseparable from his double-cousin Terry (mom’s sister married dad’s brother) since birth. Until a drug deal gone sour lands Terry in prison and leaves Mike (who was also involved, but didn’t get caught) riddled with guilt and shame. It becomes gradually apparent that the purported author of the stories is “Tim”, writing about his life and memories, particularly of his cousin.
Hinton received acclaim for The Outsiders for giving a voice to young, disadvantaged men. Here, she continues to do the same, but she has graduated from perceptive Soc girl-next-door [was Cherry Valance but a thinly disguised Susan Hinton? Discuss.] to veteran author with an impressive ability to reside within the skin of her narrator. Tim’s stories are, in a word, breathtaking. Each is no more than five or six pages; the whole book is less than 70 pages. Dialogue, description, emotion—all are pared down to their essence.
But enough fawning. Here’s an excerpt:
He worked on a street crew; they were repairing a neighborhood road. It was a hundred degrees, and the men were surly and mean.
And she came out of a house with a pitcher of lemonade and real glasses—like she wasn’t afraid of their germs….
You could tell she wasn’t afraid they’d say rough things, get nasty. And nobody did.
When she looked at them, she looked under grime and saw people. She had those kind of eyes.
And when he went back later, clean, nervous, cursing himself for a fool, and knocked on the door—she was the babysitter, he found out—she could still see him. She didn’t mistake shy for sullen or take lack of words for no thought. It was the first time anyone had seen him that clearly.
Reading Age: 13 and up.