Stay Gold, Ponyboy: Catching up with Susie Finkbeiner
The summer before I entered seventh grade my sister left for college. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, being the youngest, I was prone to snooping. So, snoop I did through the few things she’d left behind. Under her bed I found a handful of coins. In her dresser drawer, a pair of out-of-style earrings. In her closet I discovered a pair of shoes that happened to be just my size.
But what really caught my eye was a book on her shelf that looked extremely well loved. The binding was broken and pages dog-eared. Tough looking guys in white t-shirts and cuffed blue jeans with greased-back hair glared out from the cover under the bold-lettered title.
“The Outsiders,” I whispered. “By S.E. Hinton.”
I read that book in one sitting. As soon as I got to the end, I read it again. And again. And once more. Every time I got to Johnny telling Ponyboy to “stay gold” I’d sob.
Goodness. Just thinking about that line has my eyes misting nearly thirty years later.
That story was about a bunch of boys who had it rough. They were poor. They were marginalized. They had dysfunctional families. The difficulties of life had given them grit, hard edges, strong defenses.
They were greasers. They didn’t let anyone walk over them.
At least, that was what they wanted everyone to believe.
In reality, they were vulnerable and scared. They needed each other and they weren’t strong on their own. They teased one another and fought, but they would give their lives to protect one of their own if it came down to it.
And Johnny, the most vulnerable of them all, the most wounded, also possessed the most hope.
Upon reading The Outsiders I became aware of the complexities of a well written character, the importance of hope, and the beauty of a story that causes the reader to feel deeply.
As is often the case, one good book led to another and another. I moved from that story to Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. From The Glass Menagerie to The Scarlet Letter. Because of Ms. Hinton, I sought out the writings of other authors who were unafraid of delving the depths of human existence and emotion. Authors who were brave enough to show the tension between hard times and the expectation that good days are still around the corner.
I have grown up loving books that catch in my heart, drawing out empathy and hope for a better world. Now that I’m an adult I have filled my shelves with such books. As a mom I share these stories with my kids.
And as an author I can’t help but infuse the novels I write with these very qualities. With every character I form, every scene I orchestrate, each word I type it is my heartfelt desire that I can encourage one reader. That I can remind one person that they are not alone in this world.
I have learned from the S.E. Hintons of this world, the John Steinbecks and the J.K. Rowlings and Christopher Paul Curtises, that the use of fiction is to cry out to the reader, to send a powerful message.
Don’t give up. All is not lost. There is still hope yet.
Susie Finkbeiner is the writer of fiction, both short and long. Her deepest desire is that her fiction reflects the love of Jesus in a broken world. She and her husband are raising their three children in the beauty of Michigan.