Our Books & Bagels book group met a couple of weeks ago to discuss The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon. When I pick the books for this parent-child bookclub, I’ve usually read them in advance and know they will be good for discussion. This one I picked before I’d read it. I’d read reviews and whatnot, of course, but I think it was actually the cover that made me sure this would be a great book for our group. The cover of this book is practically perfect in every way, I think.
The Season of Styx Malone is about the summer an über-cool, sweet-talkin’, full of Big Plans sixteen-year-old named Styx Malone walks into Caleb and Bobby Gene Franklin’s perfectly ordinary lives. Caleb longs for something extra-ordinary to happen. Enter Styx Malone, stage left. This is how the book opens:
Styx Malone didn’t believe in miracles, but he was one. Until he came along, there was nothing very special about life in Sutton, Indiana.
The cover captures Styx’s cool ease, Bobby Gene’s worry and uncertainty (he’s the first born), and Caleb’s head-over-heals admiration of their new friend.
The summer with Styx Malone was extraordinary for Caleb and Bobby Gene. Caleb got his wish — but the extraordinariness wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be. This book is funny, heart-wrenching, poignant, and real,even as it tells the story of a fairly mad-cap adventure taken by a couple of middle-school boys under the spell of a talk-his-way-out-of-anything young man. All of us — kids and parents enjoyed it.
Over bagels and juice and coffee we talked about family and friends…choices and consequences…fear and risk…parent-child differences in how things are perceived…the role of worry…gut feelings…the responsibility of community…. There was a lot to talk about. Our group is made up of some pretty empathetic, deep-thinking kiddos. I asked them, in our discussion of worry, who they were most concerned about at the end of the book — because we parents thought there was plenty to be concerned about, even as the book gave a hopeful, happy ending.
I expected the kids to say they were worried about one of the boys on the cover. Maybe Styx, who we learn is a pretty vulnerable kid in danger of dropping through the cracks. Or maybe Caleb, who was so easily swayed by the smooth talking Styx — that child would follow anyone anywhere! Or perhaps they’d worry about Bobby Gene, who felt the heavy weight of responsibility and walked around worried and unsure so much of the time. But no — we parents were worried about all three of these boys; the kids, however, were worried about a minor character named Pixie.
Pixie was an unexpected surprise in this book that is largely about boys. Styx introduces her as his sister — they are living in the same foster-home for much of the book. Pixie comes into the story wearing every color of the rainbow, accented by a feather boa, a tutu, and a zebra striped headband with black-and-white pink mouse ears. She is Caleb and Bobby Gene’s age, but she doesn’t seem like it to them — her vocabulary is older, her behavior younger. They are completely confused by her — she twirls and sparkles, she adores Styx (and he her), and she glints and glitters her way into their summer…in a pretty minor way considering all that happens.
But the kids in the bookgroup worried about her more than all the other characters. They struggled to voice exactly what they were worried about, but it came down to some combination of her “differentness” and the fact that she and Styx were separated into two foster homes. Styx gave the impression that he’d always land on his feet. It was hard to tell if Pixie would ever land. The kids thought she seemed untethered without Styx as her anchor, and this was worrisome for them.
When we parents listed our worries about the kids — their various vulnerabilities, the history of poor choices, the crazy risks taken by the three boys etc. — the kids nodded like “Yeah, yeah. Of Course.” It was like it was our job to worry in this way. Their job was to worry about the kid we’d hardly noticed.
This is why I love reading with kids. They notice different things, they think about characters in other ways, they bring a fresh set of eyes and experiences to stories. I’m grateful to have them as reading companions.
If you are parent and not part of a parent-child bookgroup, consider starting one. It can be a one-time thing, or an occasional group, as Books & Bagels is. It’s a good excuse to read with kids and talk about important things (and unimportant things) together.