In the mid 1970s, young adult fiction was tackling the tough issues of growing up – and one of the books of the time period that exemplified many teen realities was Rumble Fish.
Written by S. E. Hinton (who also is the author of The Outsiders), the story centers around Rusty-James and his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy.
The brothers live with their Dad, an alcoholic who regularly disappears on drinking binges, while their Mum took off when Rusty-James was young.
Rusty-James hangs out with his friend Steve and his girlfriend Patty, plays pool, acts tough and idolizes The Motorcycle Boy, who regularly leaves the claustrophobic environment of the house, trying to leave the past behind.
Through flashbacks, Rusty-James thinks about his childhood and the way his life has changed, but thinks the only way to be strong is to fight.
Meanwhile Rusty-James is creating the bad reputation for himself, especially in fights versus his rival Biff and against gang members.
He doesn’t believe The Motorcycle Boy that this isn’t the best way to live – and tries to convince him that he should stay instead of wanting to go back to California where their Mother now lives.
Hinton’s focus on the bravado of youth, the determination to become independent, the pressures of a peer group and the reality of growing up are embodied in the relationship between Rusty-James and his brother.
For readers in the 1970s, the themes were common, but finding them in books wasn’t as popular. Young adult fiction allowed young teens to find stories that reflected their reality – old enough to understand yet not old enough to really do much in the face of so many negative situations.
Hinton’s novel was published in 1975, and was awarded two awards – the School Library Journal Best Books of the Year and the ALA Best Books for Young Adults.