S. E. Hinton’s debut novel The Outsiders is a timeless story about teenage rebellion. Told from the perspective of the young protagonist Ponyboy Curtis, the novel depicts the conflict between two gangs that differ in social status—the working-class Greasers and the upper-class Socs. Although the adventures of these rival gangs are quite unique, the following coming-of-age novels deal with similar issues and, like The Outsiders, capture the darker side of growing up. Here’s what to read next if you’re a fan of Hinton’s style.
1. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The Chocolate War received mixed reviews upon publication in 1974 and sparked controversy in the literary world. The novel is set in a fictional Catholic high school and it deals with a manipulative student organization that tries to enforce its views into the entire student population. When freshman Jerry Renault refuses to live by their rules, the members of the organization try to make him conform by turning the entire school against him, which leads to him becoming a victim of a cruel mob mentality. Despite being called one of the best young adult novels of all time, The Chocolate War took third place on the American Library Association’s list of The Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000–2009.
2. The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
Written by American author Chaim Potok, The Chosen, set in Brooklyn in the 1940s, depicts the childhood years of the narrator Reuven Malter and his friend Daniel Saunders. The novel explores themes like the strength of friendship, father-son relationships, and the search for the truth in a world that’s often deceptive. Potok describes the struggles and challenges many immigrant families face upon their arrival in America and the difficulty of finding your identity in a new, modern world. Potok also wrote a sequel to this novel, titled The Promise, which follows Reuven’s young adult years.
3. The Wanderers, by Richard Price
Richard Price’s first novel The Wanderers was published when he was only 24 years old, and the inspiration for it came from his own experience growing up in a housing project in the Bronx, New York. This unferined, humorous, and at times violent story follows Richie Gennaro, a 17-year-old leader of the Wanderers, an Italian-American group of juvenile delinquents in the early 1960s. The story is connected by the reappearing characters rather than the plot itself, and each chapter focuses on different members of the gang. Chapters can stand on their own, which makes Price’s book more a collection of short stories than a novel. Each character is different, but they all share one thing in common—sooner or later, they must grow up.
4. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Despite being published in 1954, Lord of the Flies tackles issues that are relevant today and explores the conflict between human impulses and social rules. The novel centers on a group of British boys who end up on a desert island after their plane crashes. Left on their own, they decide to join forces in order to survive, and they build shelters and collect food together. However, tensions slowly begin to build and divide the group into two clans—one led by Ralph, who wants to maintain structure and discipline, and one led by Jack, who rejects social norms and opts for savagery instead. As primal instincts prevail over civilized behavior, their conflict escalates into violence with disastrous consequences. Golding argues that the corruption of the society is inextricably linked with the flaws of human nature, and that the moral fiber of the society isn’t shaped by the government or politics, but by the ethical views of those who founded it.
5. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Like The Chocolate War and The Outsiders, Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak ended up on the ALA’s list of the most banned or challenged books in the last decade. The story is written in a diary format and follows high school freshman Melinda who puts a stop to a summer party by calling the police. She refuses to say why she did it, and as a result, the entire school stops talking to her. She becomes increasingly isolated, to a point where she stops talking altogether, and her only means of expression develop in her art classes. With the help of art and creativity, Melinda manages to face her problems and find the courage to fight back.
6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Told from the point of view of the protagonist, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a story about Native American teenager Arnold Spirit Jr, also known as “Junior”, an aspiring cartoonist. Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation and attends a problematic school where he is often bullied, so he decides to turn his life around and enroll into an all-white high school in search of a better future. What’s particularly appealing about this book is that there are numerous illustrations and drawings peppered throughout it, with the purpose of assisting the plot and providing further information about the situations and characters. The novel has been a subject of controversy due to its depictions of violence, sexuality, profanity, and alcohol, which caused some schools to ban it from their libraries.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Set in the early 1990s in a Pittsburgh suburb, The Perks of Being a Wallflower centers on Charlie, a 15-year-old introvert, and his observations of the world around him. The novel depicts one year in Charlie’s life and it takes the form of a diary in which Charlie notes down his thoughts. This approach enables the reader to gain insight into Charlie’s mind and relate to him as he tries to develop his own identity and cross the bridge between adolescence and adulthood. Like several books on this list, this novel was banned in some American schools because of the themes it addresses, namely homosexuality, sexual assault, mental illness, and drug use.
8. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Anyone who enjoyed The Outsiders shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to read Salinger’s seminal work about the struggles of growing up. The Catcher in the Rye follows 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after he gets expelled from school and ponders the kind of life he wants to lead. Salinger captures the complexity of adolescence and explores the themes of identity, sexuality, belonging, depression, and loss. Holden sees the world of adults as superficial and corrupt and he doesn’t want to become them, but at the same time he desperately wants to fit into that world and be accepted by adults as their equal. The popularity of this novel hasn’t diminished with time, and worldwide sales are counted in millions every year.
9. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Although it belongs to the sci-fi genre, The Giver involves a young protagonist who breaks out of his comfort zone and ends up being sucked into a reality quite different from his own. Written by American author Lois Lowry, this young adult novel depicts a society that seems to be utopian at first glance, but as the story progresses, your impression of it begins to change. The society has adopted the plan of “Sameness”—a way of life deprived of any emotions and personal individuality and designed to maintain structure, order, and equality. This community lacks memories, colors, terrain, and climate, but to be able to develop and prosper, they rely on the wisdom of those who came before them. For this reason, 12-year-old Jonas is selected to become the Receiver of Memory—the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they might come in handy in the future. Jonas struggles to understand all the emotions and new concepts that are presented to him and wonders whether they are good, bad, or simply inevitable.