Let's set the scene...
There are two scenes in this episode that reference The Outsiders.
(Cut to Rory and Dean. They are in the car on the way to the dance.)
Rory: Maybe we should just forget about this
Rory: I mean, it's just a dance. What's the big deal?
Dean: Beats me.
Rory: And these kids at my school -- awful. Have you seen The Outsiders?
Dean: Yeah, I have.
Rory: Just call me Ponyboy. I heard this place is beautiful though -- old and historic.
(Tristin is watching Rory and Dean kissing.)
Cissy: OK, I'm perfect now.
Tristin: (without enthusiasm) Great.
Cissy: You wanna dance?
Cissy: You wanna eat?
Cissy: You wanna go make out?
Tristin: Yeah, alright, let's go.
Dean: So, Ponyboy, you happy?
Rory: Yeah, I'm happy.
As a once-upon-a-time unpopular high schooler, S.E. Hinton's story of the epic struggle between the haves and have-nots resonated with me. At the time, you feel that being an "outsider" is the worst thing that you could ever experience. You feel that it'll never end... that you'll never end up feeling like you belong in this world. Feeling like you'll never make your own path, and instead you'll be forced to spend an entire lifetime wishing you could be on the inside (I went as far as to try out for cheerleading... TWICE. If you know me, you know that this means I was desperate). The thing that Ponyboy and his friends don't realize (and as a national campaign has recently been reminding the youth of today)... IT GETS BETTER. As a teenager, you rolled your eyes at this sentiment. You envisioned a future where you'll have to lie to the world about the person you are. When in that moment, you don't see anyway that your life could be any different than it is at that time.
If I ever have children, the one thing I would like to impart to them is: it DOES get better. I know it doesn't seem that way when you're in the middle of it. But one day, you'll wake up proud of you who are, looking to make your own way in the world and thankful for the things that make you special and different, instead of spending a lifetime trying to hide your individuality. It's heartbreaking when you see people who haven't even had the chance to start their lives deciding that they need to escape what they see as a lifetime of hate and abuse. I wish I could get those people to understand how it really is. I am a thirty-one year old (gulp) woman who is proud of my difference, my talents and of who I have become. I was never well-liked. People thought I was a loser and a nerd. The most popular kids in my high school wouldn't have been caught dead hanging out with me. And now... I love me (probably to a really selfish and arrogant level). ;o)
I know this review ended up sounding more like a corny PSA, but this is something I feel strongly about. I just wish I could take the kids like Ponyboy and Johnny Cade and allow them to live in my head for one day... to see what is possible. High school isn't the be-all-end-all. In fact, one day shortly after you graduate, you're barely going to even remember the names of the kids that made your school days a living hell (and bonus if you find them on Facebook and they're fat, haggard and in dead end lives. I'm not bitter!)
According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for "social") has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he's always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers--until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy's skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser. This classic, written by S. E. Hinton when she was 16 years old, is as profound today as it was when it was first published in 1967.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
I know it seems like the obvious selection... but I see so much of Ponyboy in Jess. He's brilliant during an age where a love of literature and all things counterculture is not considered "cool". He's always on the outside of his peers. He also has that giant ass chip on his shoulder that you see in so many of the characters in The Outsiders (and that you also see in so many high schoolers, regardless of the decade). Jess has potential that lays beyond the halls of Stars Hollow High.