Rumble Fish

Book review by
Monica Wyatt, Common Sense Media
Rumble Fish Book Poster Image
Realistic portrait of teen stuck in a world of violence.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 9 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

There's more to life than fighting and trying to prove how tough you are. There are consequences for engaging in violent and illegal behavior. You can't always count on a family member to come to your rescue. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character fights and steals, smokes and drinks, with no guidance from parents or his school. He is, however, opposed to drugs.


Descriptions of a knife fight and mugging, with resulting injuries. A boy is shot and killed by police. A boy is severly beaten by his father for staying out past curfew.


Two brief descriptions of making out.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink and smoke. Rusty-James' mostly absent father is an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rumble Fish, by S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), tells the story of Rusty-James, who resorts to fighting to feel good about himself. It also explores his relationship with his older brother, Motorcycle Boy, a former gang leader he looks up to. Many teens will recognize and appreciate this realistically written story of a kid with no hope, living in a world of violence where only the tough survive. It's a realistic, engrossing portrait of a kid without much going for him, with a story and characters so engaging it's great for reluctant readers. Rumble Fish was adapted into a 1983 movie starring Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; the movie is more violent than the book. 

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10-year-old Written byCoredestroy October 14, 2009

Easy read, advanced message

Good book as long as it is followed up with some good discussion. The positive messages are hidden in resolution of the plot. It becomes more of an example of... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bygile123 June 24, 2012

truth of rumble fish

it's a great book for preteen boys who are heading in any direction. but know your kid before you give it to them. the message is great but hard to find. a... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bysexisadie1 January 8, 2009


the book was very good and it inspired me 2 not drink,
or be in any type of gangs....U WILL LOVE IT...

What's the story?

Fourteen-year-old Rusty-James reigns as the toughest kid in his rough, depressed neighborhood. He worships his older brother, who was the leader of a gang. But his brother drifts aimlessly, and Rusty-James lives only for the excitement of fighting. One fight has serious consequences, and Rusty-James gets sent to reform school. His brother's actions have serious consequences, as well. These are the memories he recalls five years later when he runs into someone who knew him in junior high. 

Is it any good?

Readers who enjoyed S.E. Hinton's much-loved The Outsiders usually want to read the rest of her books -- and RUMBLE FISH stands as one of her best efforts. This spare portrait of a juvenile delinquent who has no desire to better his life lets readers see Rusty-James as he cannot see himself. Readers experience Rusty-James' dangerous life, but they also see more.

Hinton reveals the experiences in his family that led Rusty-James to become a juvenile delinquent. Despite his thoroughly deserved status as a bad boy and a thief, Rusty-James nevertheless comes across as a recognizable and sympathetic character. His toughness raises him above his peers, and his acceptance of his apparently miserable life helps readers accept him. This is an impressive effort from the woman who virtually created the young-adult genre. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Rusty-James' self-image affects his behavior in Rumble Fish. Is Rusty-James as "dumb" as he thinks he is?

  • If you read the author's The Outsiders, how does this book compare?

  • What do you think about the relationship between Rusty-James and Motorcycle Boy? How realistic does it seem?   

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