The Season Of Styx Malone

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.

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1 year ago

Nice book!