A Double Header: The Outsiders and The Cross and the Switchblade: Gangs, Violence, and Redemption

The OutsidersThe Outsiders, written in 1963, speaks in the voice of a 14-year-old boy, “Ponyboy” Curtis, who struggles to find his way in the midst of the gang violence in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In The Outsiders, the rival gangs, the Socs and the Greasers are separated by economics, not race or geographic location.

S.E. Hinton began writing the novel when she was just fifteen in response to a ruthless beating a friend received at the hands of “The Socs”, the gang of teens represented by the wealthy members of her city. Her main character, Ponyboy, puts into words the angst of surviving in a society that leaves adolescents to their own devices, either through benign neglect or outright abuse.

Ponyboy’s situation differs from the other characters in the novel in that he has two older brothers who truly love him and look after him. The three brothers stick together after their parents are killed in a car crash and try to maintain a clean house so that they aren’t pulled apart by Social Services. Darry, age 20, is the oldest brother, who sacrifices his future plans to work and hold the family together.

Events in the lives of the boys take a dramatic turn for the worse and make for a suspenseful and tragic story. “Many of the issues that adolescents in the novel face are still very prevalent today. Teenage suicide, pregnancy, smoking, drinking, and the importance of staying in school are still areas of concern for teens. Perhaps the only area that is missing is illegal drug use. Today, undoubtedly, at least one gang member would be using an illegal drug.” http://www.cliffnotes.com

The 1983 movie, “The Outsiders” starred Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell, among others.

The-Cross-and-the-Switchblade-292322The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, deals straightforwardly with life-threatening heroin drug addiction in its story of redemption of gang members in New York City in the early 1960s.

One of the most hardened gang members, Nicky Cruz, recounts how as the president of the Mau Maus, he was the most ruthless in his violent acts, even to the point of murder. When the skinny preacher from rural Pennsylvania showed up on the streets of his city, Cruz mocked and spit at him, but Wilkerson persevered, giving him the message that Jesus loved him, and stayed in the city to establish the first house for rehabilitation for drug addicts and other homeless teens.

The Cross and the Switchblade documents the transformation of Wilkerson’s own life as he followed the seemingly irrational call of God to the streets of New York City and the amazing changes that took place in the thrown-away teens that society had given up on.

Published in 1962, the autobiography sold more than 15 million copies in 30 languages, and was later made into a movie in 1970 starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada. Another autobiography, Run, Baby, Run tells the life story of Nicky Cruz, who is still actively traveling and speaking to teens about life transformation through the Holy Spirit.

Tragically, David Wilkerson died in a car accident in 2011, but his legacy lives on in the Teen Challenge centers helping those struggling with addiction, and the Times Square Church founded in 1987. Wilkerson’s son and ministry partner, Gary Wilkerson, is releasing this September the full story of father’s life in David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed.

Categories: Autobiography, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “A Double Header: The Outsiders and The Cross and the Switchblade: Gangs, Violence, and Redemption

  1. Reblogged this on A Heroine's Journey and commented:
    A wonderful reminder that one book, one man, and even one blog post has the potential to change the world for the better. Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. I remember being powerfully affected by “The Cross and the Switchblade” many years ago when I read it. It’s really interesting to hear the follow-up and the forthcoming biography of David Wilkerson. I’d heard of “The Outsiders,” but wasn’t familiar with it. Thanks for featuring both these books.

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