S. E. Hinton's continuity
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The young adult novels of bestselling author S.E. Hinton -- The Outsiders (1967), That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975), Tex (1979) and Taming the Star Runner (1988) -- all contain a number of common threads in locations, characters and themes. Many of her characters make multiple appearances and all take place in the same area in Oklahoma.
Together, the books form a series that reflect many issues such as friendship, gangs, drugs, war and poverty, as lived by the Greasers. Many books serve as partial prologues or epilogues to others, such as That Was Then, This Is Now being an epilogue to The Outsiders, showing the results one year later of the events of her first novel. In turn Tex is an epilogue for That Was Then, This Is Now and shows the adult lives of several characters. Others are thematic epilogue, as Taming the Star Runner shows the adult lives of the Hippie generation, who were adolescents in some of her earlier books, especially That Was Then, This Is Now, and the regrets of a misspent youth.
Originating in The Outsiders
Ponyboy Curtis - The protagonist of her first novel, The Outsiders, Ponyboy, makes a cameo appearance in the second novel, That Was Then, This Is Now. In addition, he is frequently referred to throughout the book, both for his status as a local hero, and because Bryon's former girlfriend left him to make a play for Ponyboy. By the end of That Was Then, This Is Now, Ponyboy is dating Bryon's ex-girlfriend Cathy Carlson.
Tim Shepard - A gang leader in The Outsiders and friend of Dallas, it is revealed that he has a younger brother, Curly, who is briefly referenced as being "in the cooler." Tim and Curly both reappear in That Was Then, This Is Now, along with their sister Angela. Curly makes several appearances as a local thug, while Tim is referred to several times but only makes one brief appearance.
Originating in That Was Then, This Is Now
Mark Jennings - The protagonist's best friend and pseudo-brother in That Was Then, This Is Now, Mark returns as the hitchhiker in Tex. In his monologue he refers to getting revenge on Bryon for his betrayal in That Was Then, This Is Now, by shooting him; a cop later states that Bryon is expected to live. Ironically, while fleeing from his revenge on Bryon, Mark meets his real brother Tex while holding him hostage, without either of them realizing the connection. Mark was later shot by the highway patrol. It is mentioned in Tex that Cathy Carlson later went to his funeral, as she is a teacher at Tex's school. When Tex discusses Cathy going to the funeral she tells him that Mark was not a friend, and that she knew him a long time ago.
Cathy Carlson - Bryon's girlfriend in That Was Then, This Is Now, goes on to date Ponyboy of The Outsiders after breaking up with Bryon at the end of That Was Then, This Is Now. She eventually goes on to become a school teacher in the suburb of Garyville and teaches English to Tex in Tex. Later she also goes to Mark's funeral, after Mark had been shot by the police after trying to force Tex and Mason to take him to the state line.
The Golden-eyed Cowboy - The biological father of both Mark and Tex; he is referred to in both That Was Then, This Is Now and Tex, though he never makes an appearance. A rodeo circuit rider and a womanizer, it is implied in That Was Then, This Is Now that he had golden colored eyes, which he shares with both of his sons, though Tex's aren't as vivid as Mark's. It is later explicitly stated in Tex that this was in fact his real eye color. Though neither Mark nor Tex ever realize their connection, Tex, after Mark's death, states that the hitchhiker, Mark, reminded him of himself, strengthening the argument that they are brothers. It is implied that Mason, Tex's older (half) brother, may have realized the possibility that they were related. At the end of Tex, Mason's father states that the golden-eyed cowboy was probably dead, since he had not seen him in recent rodeos.
Originating in Tex
The Kencaide Family - The father, only referred to as Mr. Kencaide, first made his appearance in Tex as someone who had acknowledged Tex's horse-handling skills and would later become his new employer. His daughter, Casey, is a main character in Taming The Star Runner, where his wife also makes a brief appearance.
Tulsa, Oklahoma At some point every novel finds the characters in Tulsa. Tulsa is the setting of the first three novels; The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now and Rumble Fish, and the remaining two take place in the suburbs. Many locations within Tulsa are referred to, especially in the first two books, as they are set in exactly the same area of town.
The Ribbon A street in Tulsa, known for Drag racing and a number of restaurants and other hangouts. It is referred to in That Was Then, This Is Now and Rumble Fish and even Tex makes a brief trip there.
Jay's and The Dingo two drive-ins, known as Greaser hangouts (the Socs hang out at Rusty's and The Way Out). Jay's is on the Ribbon. After The Dingo got bombed in between The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now, both sides would hang out at Jay's.
Order of events
Internal clues point to the novels taking place in the same order in which they were written, typically two or three years prior to the publishing of the book.
The Outsiders comes first as it is clearly set before hippies and the Vietnam war expansion. The movie sets the story in 1966 (as indicated on the back cover) and S.E. Hinton has stated on Twitter she set it in 1965. It was published in 1967, and is therefore set before that time.
That Was Then, This Is Now is explicitly stated to follow the events in The Outsiders by approximately a year (as Bryon states that the greaser/soc conflict ended "about a year ago" after some kids were killed). It is also stated that hippies are now common and that social class feuds have all but disappeared since the events of The Outsiders. Another example is that Charlie receives a draft notice, referring to a war. It is likely set anywhere from 1967 to 1969.
Rumble Fish references The Outsiders at the beginning of chapter 11, when it mentions the Tiber Street Tigers, a gang Ponyboy mentions in The Outsiders at page 18. The upsurge of drugs and the reference to gangs going out of style about three or four years previously implies that it is at least that many years after The Outsiders. Also, Tim Shepard of The Outsiders is noticeably absent and is not even mentioned, despite being from a downtown gang, implying a gap of a number of years. This and other details imply that this book is most likely set in the early to mid-1970s (it was published in 1975 and is likely set before that). This keeps with the observed tendency for the books to be set in the same order they are written.
Tex comes next as several That Was Then, This Is Now characters re-occur. Enough time has passed that Cathy has become a school teacher (at least six or seven years, since she was fifteen or sixteen in her last appearance) and Mark has had several additional convictions after the one he got in That Was Then, This Is Now. There is a veiled reference to Star Wars (Jamie mentions the "smuggler is a doll" in a movie she wants to see), which would put the novel c. 1977.
The last is Taming The Star Runner. Travis's father died in the Vietnam War, placing his father in the same age group as The Outsiders characters. This and the reference to the Star Trek movies places this book in the mid-1980s, well after even the events of Tex. Another Novel that Hinton wrote, Hawkes Harbor, is referenced too. Travis is writing a book where the main character is killed in a car crash, and the same happens to Hawkes Harbor's protagonist.