The Outsiders is a legendary YA novel about the socioeconomic and violent consequences of rival gangs. These 20 gritty YA books similar to the literary classic explore equally fascinating and engrossing topics.
About The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Widely read in schools and celebrated for over 50 years, The Outsiders is an intense, lionhearted young adult story about two rivaling socio-economic groups, the power of comradery, and the suffering that can happen no matter what status you hold.
The main character and narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, is 14 and lives with his two older brothers, Sodapop, who is eighteen, and Darry, who is twenty. Darry has had custody of his two brothers ever since their parents tragically died in a car accident.
Ponyboy and his friends are called Greasers, and they rival the Socials (also known as Socs). The difference between these two groups, as noted by Ponyboy, is this: the Socs have money and attitudes and can get away with almost anything, while the Greasers are poor outsiders who have to be on alert due to the way the world views them.
The novel follows several characters through the point-of-view of Ponyboy as the Socs and Greasers fight, sometimes to devastating consequences.
The Outsiders is heavy on life lessons and a book that looks at society through a young boy’s lens while acknowledging the distance socioeconomic status bridges between us, the cycle of violence passed down from generation to generation, and the importance of innocence and friendship through all of it.
About S. E. Hinton
S. E. Hinton was only 16 years old when she wrote The Outsiders and 17 when she published the novel in 1967. Since then, it has sold over 14 million copies and won a number of literary awards, one of which was an ALA (American Library Association) award.
As a high schooler when she penned the inspired-by-reality narrative, Hinton is often credited with founding the YA (young adult) genre and has since gone on to write more books for teens and adolescents.
The inspiration behind The Outsiders, according to S. E. Hinton, came from two rival gangs in her own high school, also called the Greasers and Socs. Caught in the middle with friends on both sides, she wrote it from the perspective of Ponyboy, a Greaser, after witnessing one of her Greaser friends get attacked.
She wanted others to empathize and respect Greasers despite their status. At the same time, she wanted to shine a light on the troubles teens of any social status can face. She succeeded.
What many don’t know is that S. E. Hinton was a girl when she published her first book and deliberately chose not to use her first name so as not to alienate male readers and have professional reviewers write her off. To this day, not many realize the author of The Outsiders is a woman.
In 1983, The Outsiders movie premiered. Now studied globally in schools and on most reading lists, this classic novel continues to leave a mark on the genre forever through its exploration of difficult topics.
Like The Outsiders, these 20 hand-picked books step out of the comfort zone of young adult literature and offer up accounts of hard but realistic tales of youths struggling to navigate the world for the first time.
Check out these twenty titles below for bold, honest YA books!
20 YA Books Like The Outsiders
Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott
Slacker Sam and gang member Luis get paired up in English class during a slam poetry unit. Forced to work together, they form an unlikely friendship over a shared love of literature.
Poems are scattered through the text of a novel that explores friendship, grief, and the honoring of words. The relationship between Ponyboy and Johnny is the central friendship in The Outsiders, and readers who loved that part of the classic will find a similar dynamic in Jumped In that will tug on the same heartstrings.
You can get the award-winning, moving young adult novel here!
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
Maverick and Lisa are seniors in high school and in love in 1998. Maverick, the main character, is the son of a former gang member and helps his family by dealing with the King Lords while his father is in prison. But when he finds out he’s having a child with a former fling and struggles to balance all that comes with finishing school, raising a kid, and working in a gang, he sees a way out. But walking away isn’t easy, especially when blood is being spilled between enemies, family, and friends.
Concrete Rose is the prequel to Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, though it can be read on its own, detailing the story of Maverick and how he fought to protect his family and loved ones while trying to make a better life for himself.
Like The Outsiders, this young adult novel offers insight and commentary on gangs and loyalty. This book has won several awards, including the Printz Honor Award.
Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
Vic Bennuci is a grieving, runaway sixteen-year-old whose father recently died. He meets the other narrator, Mad, who, ironically enough, loves S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and whose life is clouded by abuse. When their friend Baz is accused of murder, they are pulled in by the police to be interrogated.
Kids of Appetite draws many parallels to The Outsiders, even mentioning the book in its narration, and is ultimately about found family and the horrors our youth face.
Literary reviews have described this book as beautiful in its language with well-rounded, diverse characters. Fans of The Outsiders will love this book!
The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho
May Chen, a high school writer, frequently feels like the sibling who disappoints her parents, but when her older brother commits suicide, everything changes for her family.
Racist accusations are hurled at her parents and the Asian community in town, claiming David’s death was caused by expectations to be perfect. May challenges these ideas by publishing poetry, only to find that consequences can come from being vocal.
Now she must make a decision: which consequences are worse, the ones that come from speaking up or the ones that come from remaining silent?
Joanna Ho writes a character with a lot of heart and strong viewpoints about the society around her, reminiscent of The Outsiders’ main narrator, Ponyboy. Dealing with topics not often explored in young adult books, The Silence That Binds Us breaks the mold much like S. E. Hinton did in her time.
You can purchase the book here!
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Like The Outsiders, Tricks explores the circumstances of socioeconomic status and family drama that can lead to teens being caught up in dangerous, heartbreaking situations.
Though there are five different characters and narrators to keep track of, each one is distinct in the challenges they must navigate as they are pulled into prostitution. Hopkins writes beautifully, giving voices to those often left unheard and overlooked.
Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers
12-year-old Jamal Hicks lives in Harlem with most of his family–his older brother, Randy, is in prison. When a gang called the Scorpions approaches Jamal to take his brother’s place in their gang, Jamal refuses.
At first. But the challenges he faces at home, paired with his fascination with the gun the gang offers him, lead to his eventual acceptance of the role and, subsequently, a death that changes everything Jamal knows.
A literary, own-voices classic published in 1988, Scorpions explores the role of gang violence in teens’ and kids’ lives and the tragic consequences that come with something that can seem so innocent at first. The writing style is similar to The Outsiders, with its gritty narrative.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
Winner of 6 literary awards, including the YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and the School Library Journal Best Books: 2015, All American Boys is about two characters: Quinn, who is White, and Rashad, who is Black. One night, Rashad is accused of stealing and brutally beaten by a police officer as Quinn witnesses the attack.
The narrative is told from both Rashad’s and Quinn’s points of view, and like The Outsiders, All American Boys explores the viewpoints of two separate groups (socioeconomic status in The Outsiders and race in All American Boys) and the challenges that come with being young in a world of violence that’s plagued with prejudices.
This book has been called passionate and moving by literary journalists.
Boys of the Beast by Monica Zepeda
Three Latinx cousins set off on a road trip and open up to each other on the way about the struggles they’re facing.
Matt deals with a strict father whose expectations don’t match his dreams; Ethan struggles with facing his first romantic relationship with a guy he likes; and Oscar must handle the grief of losing his father in a school shooting and the way he uses weed to cope.
Though Monica Zepeda uses these three characters as vessels to navigate heavy topics, this book offers a little more room for humor than some of its counterparts on this list and captures the voice of young adult literature.
The Bones of Me by Kel Duckhouse
Molly wants to be a boxer just like her older brother, Denny, but one night, while training, an assault takes place, and the next thing Molly knows, her brother is on the run. The police are looking for him, and it’s up to Molly to prove his innocence while uncovering secrets along the way.
The on-the-run theme in this book is similar to how Ponyboy and Johnny run after the rumble at the beginning of The Outsiders. Classism is also explored throughout the text, but what teens and other readers will sink their teeth into about this novel is that it’s told in verse and prose and at times reads as a young adult thriller. Grab it here!
Bloody Seoul by Sonia Patel
The city streets of Seoul are run by Rocky’s father’s gang, Three Star Pa, and Rocky knows one day he will be their new leader. Living up to his father’s ways, Rocky is an incessant bully who all but tortures Ha-na, a Korean Indian girl. But when secrets begin to unravel about his father, Rocky goes down a path of redemption, seeking to right wrongs no matter what it costs him.
Bloody Seoul offers up many of the same questions The Outsiders does: at what point are we past redemption? How far will we go to protect our family? And what does violence cost us when it finally demands its price?
Though Rocky is a controversial character, his lack of direction at his age is something many teenagers experience and will relate to.
What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson
17-year-old Jack tries his best to keep his younger brother out of foster care through a dark Idaho winter after finding his mother dead by suicide and burying her in the backyard. His father is incarcerated for taking drug money, and now Jack needs the hidden stash to survive.
But he’s not the only one who wants it. Bardem, his father’s ex-partner, is after the money too, but with the help from Bardem’s daughter Ava, Jack just might be able to outwit and outrun the drug dealer.
What Beauty There Is reads as a sad, harsh thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. This book doesn’t shy away from holding a magnifying glass up to the harsh realities of poverty, spotlighting the importance of survival and family.
This book is a good choice for fans of The Outsiders because it features a group of teenage characters who try to stick together in the face of adversity.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Will is 15 years old when his brother is murdered. Furious and devastated, the only thing Will wants is his brother back, but since he can’t have that, he’ll take the next best thing—revenge.
With his brother’s gun in his possession, he gets on the elevator with the intention of getting what he wants, but the elevator stops at several different floors on the way down as person after person joins Will in the elevator to give key information about what happened with his brother.
You can purchase this award-winning book told in free verse here and experience the gripping text for yourself. The serious themes paired with a message of hope will please fans of The Outsiders and keep reluctant poetry readers interested in the storytelling that can exist in free verse.
On the Hook by Francisco X. Stork
Living in El Paso, Texas, Mexican-American Hector is the best on his school’s chess team and is doing well in his studies and life. But then a gang leader’s younger brother targets him, threatening violence. After a series of events, a tragic incident occurs that changes Hector’s entire world.
Hector grapples with a thirst for revenge, his mental health, and getting caught up in a cycle of violence. This intense book also touches on masculinity and demonstrates the intense situations teens can find themselves in. You can get the emotionally intense book here.
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
At a high school football game, a rivalry turns into a riot, and two girls, one Black and one White, must stick together to survive the night.
The plot of this book moves fast, much like The Outsiders. If fans of the classic enjoyed the urgency of Ponyboy and Johnny’s story, they’ll rave about I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, as it deals with sensitive topics and challenges its characters by putting them in dire circumstances.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Like The Outsiders, Speak is an award-winning classic in young adult literature.
Reminiscent of Ponyboy, Melinda knows the harshness of the world and how it can and will lie. She’s an outcast, one people refuse to listen to, and so she stops speaking altogether after being raped by an upperclassman during a party.
Speak follows Melinda as she begins to heal through art and explores the cost of silence and how to find her own voice.
What I Carry by Jennifer Longo
Muir is a 17-year-old girl in the foster care system, but it’s her last year, and she knows when she turns 18 she will be free to be on her own, where she can take care of herself and be independent.
Always ready to pack up and move on, Muir doesn’t expect to cultivate relationships with the family of her final placement or the friends she makes in this new city. What I Carry explores conflict through Muir’s childhood trauma and the importance of meaningful relationships for adolescents.
You can get this character-driven novel here!
Punching the Air by Ibi Aanu Zoboi
16-year-old Amal Shahid is an artist and poet whose entire life shifts after a White boy is assaulted and he is accused of committing the act. Poetry is used to highlight key topics in Punching the Air and questions the prejudices Black youth face and how quickly we are to judge others in a way that has very real consequences.
This book has been described as riveting and necessary by literary reviews. Like The Outsiders, Punching the Air explores the concept of being “other” and what it can cost you while laying a foundation of hope by the end of the novel.
We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar
It’s the 1980s in New York City, and the AIDS crisis is emerging. We Are Lost and Found follows 16-year-old Michael’s adolescent life as he keeps his sexuality a secret and goes out partying every night, all the while grappling with the AIDS epidemic and the stigma surrounding his sexuality.
We Are Lost and Found, like The Outsiders, puts readers in a specific time period and keeps them there long after they close the novel. This book is jam-packed with details of the 1980s and the setting of New York City during a period in history often overlooked. Also, like The Outsiders, this book explores family relationships.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Another literary classic with a major following, The Chocolate War follows Jerry Renault, a boy in prep school who refuses to say no in the face of bullying and faces an army of consequences in the process.
The Chocolate War, like The Outsiders, was adapted into a film and is a compelling and disturbing novel that will leave readers thinking this is not your typical young adult novel.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Where Ponyboy is often impulsive and has a group of friends and brothers, the main character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie, is introspective and shy, with no friends at the beginning of the novel. Yet, these two characters have more in common than it seems, as both are standing on the outside of society, looking in.
Charlie grapples with new friends, family drama, and his mental health throughout the novel. Despite the serious exploration of such topics, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is still classically funny and a perfect read for reluctant readers.
You can get this hit novel-turned-film here!
The impact The Outsiders has had on the young adult genre cannot be understated. For decades, the conflict-filled and action-packed novel about two rival groups of different socioeconomic statuses has propelled teenagers toward a love of reading.
Furthermore, S. E. Hinton was only 16 years old when she penned The Outsiders, showing young adults the influence they can have on the world, even at a young age. This classic will continue teaching us about the power of words, staying golden, and the message of friendship for centuries to come.
These 20 similar books will lend themselves to younger and older readers as they navigate the many tough lessons explored within their content, and one thing’s for sure: show this list to young readers and watch them devour these honest, gritty novels!
Why is The Outsiders a controversial book?
According to the American Library Association, The Outsiders is consistently challenged due to its portrayal of violence, death, language, gangs, and family dynamics. Despite that, it remains one of the most celebrated young adult novels in schools, often recommended for reluctant readers.
What age range is The Outsiders book?
Ponyboy is 14 in the novel. Most schools include The Outsiders in their reading curriculum in the 7th grade or higher, making the age range 12 and up. The young adult genre spans the ages of 12–18, as recognized by most libraries across the United States.
What is the main point of the book The Outsiders?
The Outsiders explores several main themes. One is the idea of being an outsider in a harsh society, the gap between socioeconomic status (i.e., rich versus poor), the supposedly endless cycle of violence, found family or brotherhood, self-identity versus group identity, and hope or innocence in the face of cruelty.
Why is The Outsiders so famous?
The Outsiders is credited with reinventing and introducing the young adult genre. The book was written by S. E. Hinton, who was a teenager when she wrote and published the book, and went against the stereotypical way teenagers were viewed by adults at the time. Its many themes, lessons, and moving characters also propelled it toward recognition of literary excellence.
Why should 7th graders read The Outsiders?
Perfect for reluctant, younger readers, The Outsiders is a fast-paced, short novel sure to hold readers’ attention. It also explores sensitive topics while refusing to minimize the difficult situations young people face. The Outsiders, while action-packed and an exploration of violence, is a hopeful book that warns against loss of self and innocence. It teaches themes about life without feeling like a lecture.