In late December, I finished reading That Was Then, This Is Now, the sequel to S.E. Hinton’s classic, The Outsiders, which I read over the summer. I was given the book as a Christmas gift in 2014, and I finally got the chance to read it this winter break. It’s very short (only 159 pages), and definitely worth a read for anyone who has read and enjoyed The Outsiders.
That Was Then, This Is Now follows the lives of two teenagers, Bryon Douglas and Mark Jennings, who live in the same setting as The Outsiders, but a few years later. Bryon and Mark are like brothers; Mark’s parents killed each other in a drunken brawl when he was young, and Bryon’s mother took him in and raised him as her own. Throughout the book, Bryon describes his confusion as the world begins to change around him, and he finds himself changing, too.
(There are a few spoilers to follow, so heads-up!)
I was really pleased by the way Hinton wove the stories of her first and second novels together. That Was Then, This Is Now rarely refers back to the story from The Outsiders, except when Bryon mentions that the greasers and the Socs hardly fight anymore due to someone dying in a fight a few years back, obviously referring to the death that led Johnny and Ponyboy to flee. However, Ponyboy does play a small role in this story; Bryon first calls him “Curtis,” Ponyboy’s last name, so it took me a few pages to put the pieces together. Bryon dislikes Ponyboy because his ex-girlfriend, Angela broke up with Bryon (therefore ruining his macho reputation) so that she could have a chance with Ponyboy. Ponyboy, however, doesn’t really know she exists, causing her plan to backfire.
Though I didn’t find the book quite as gripping or emotionally captivating as The Outsiders (It’s difficult to repeat a masterpiece like that), I did find the thematic undertones especially relevant to my life now and the lives of many teenagers and young adults.
At sixteen years old, Bryon is finding himself questioning his and Mark’s roles in society. As the world around him is shifting from the greaser/Soc dichotomy to the beginnings of a hippie culture, Bryon’s internal world is changing for reasons he can’t yet understand. Even when he gets brutally beaten up, he lacks a desire to fight and keep the cycle of violence going. He doesn’t see the point in getting into trouble anymore, while Mark still does not recognize consequences for his actions. (After taking a psychology class last semester, I recognized some qualities of antisocial personality disorder in Mark’s behaviors.) Bryon finds himself caring more about his girlfriend, Cathy, than about Mark and generally cares more for the wellbeing of others than Mark does.
I identified with the frustrating tug-of-war in Bryon’s friendship with Mark; Bryon has always loved and cared about Mark, and finding himself hating him is incredibly difficult. Still, Bryon wants to become his own person; he says, “It’s kind of a good thing too […] when you know your own personality so you don’t need the one the gang makes for you” (69). Bryon wishes that Mark would change with him, but Mark remains set in his destructive and violent ways. Bryon doesn’t want to have to leave Mark behind but realizes that he, himself, is not who he used to be.
I also resonated with Bryon’s aching tiredness toward the end of the book. After witnessing the death of a good friend who saved his life from some guys he hustled in pool, Bryon discovers that Mark has been selling drugs in order to bring in more money to his family. Despite their once-close bond, Bryon calls the cops on Mark, who gets sent to reform school. It’s as if Bryon does not even know Mark anymore, and he has to let go of a friend who no longer exists.
Worn out from the drama of his life, he realizes that he no longer loves Cathy, who eventually dates Ponyboy. Caring about people has destroyed his life, and Bryon realizes that he is no longer sure of anything, a feeling I’ve felt many times within the past few months.
That Was Then, This Is Now isn’t a particularly upbeat or happy story, but it certainly raises a lot of questions about finding one’s identity and changing one’s behaviors as one grows older. It provides a startlingly honest account of growing apart from people you once cared for and the uncertainty that comes with growing up.
Have you read That Was Then, This Is Now? How do you think it compared to The Outsiders? What do you think are the most important questions it raises? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!!