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Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire vs S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders

Last year I read the new book by Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire, as it feels like everyone has been requesting it. It was fascinating, full of characters modern and topical for today's terrorist age. The next day, completely accidentally I picked up The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which I had never read. What struck me, 20 or so pages into the second book was the similarities between, what on the surface look like such different books.

Many people have read, heard of or seen the movie of the classic 'The Outsiders', a story of 1960's gangs in America. Three brothers are trying to get ahead after the tragic death of their parents, and the youngest, Ponyboy (yes that's his real name) is our protagonist. Gripping and authentic (Hinton started writing the book when she was 15) it's almost more of a family drama, each trying to find their place in a world that doesn't want them, as much as it is a coming-of-age novel.

Shamsie's book is a modern re-telling of an ancient Greek Tragedy by Sophocles about the rights of an individual versus that of the law. Three siblings are heading in different directions after reaching their majorities after the tragic death of their parents (parallels emerging already). The eldest, Isma to finish her degree in America, Parvaiz the brother of the younger twins turning to ISIS to find fulfilment and Aneeka the one sister left behind in London.

Both books are lyrically written, with detailed descriptions sometimes almost but never quite, derailing the story itself. The obvious parallel between the books is that each story is centred around three siblings, whose parents died in a car crash. Raised by the eldest, they are now on the cusp (in the case of Outsiders) or just stepping into the world (Home Fire). Will this journey towards true adulthood, thrust upon them by circumstances destroy or make stronger the bond between them?

The other major similarity between the two books is the use of villains. We have obvious and instantly understood villains from the point of view of our protagonist each time. But as the book progress and each person learns more about themselves and those around them, it seems like things are not always so black and white. Both brilliantly hold a mirror up to yourself and make you ask the question, 'Did I judge someone before knowing all the facts?'.

The only overriding difference I found between the books was that The Outsiders was purely from Ponyboy's point of view, (but at the same time, anyone with any degree of empathy can read through his eyes the thoughts and strong emotions that are desperately being kept in check by his older brothers). Meanwhile Home Fire, we start with Isma the eldest and work our way through each of the major players in the story, delving deep into their psyche each time.

Being the first time I had read both books, and the intense narrative driven story I read them far too quickly to truly appreciate the mastery of the writing. The creation of such believable characters means that I have immediately shelved both books back on my 'to-read' pile and in 1-2 years I plan on going and re-reading them to have a better appreciation for the genius of both these women writers.

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