An instant friendship leads to potential trouble in this engaging, character-driven story for middle grades and early teens.
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon. Random House, 2018, 295 pages
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 12-15
Caleb and his brother Bobby Gene belong to a nice ordinary family in Sutton, Indiana, a nice ordinary town. And that’s the problem because Caleb doesn’t want to be ordinary—and certainly doesn’t want to stay in Sutton all his life. Or even the rest of this week. To his parents, especially Dad, everything is fine. To Bobby Gene, only a year older but way more “ordinary,” everything is okay and they’re still kids after all. Nobody understands Caleb, until he and his brother literally stumble over Styx Malone. Styx is anything but ordinary, with his long snaky limbs and dazzling smile and head full of plans and schemes. Styx, a foster kid all of 16 years old, has a plan for getting out of Sutton. It involves wheeling, dealing, and trading up—and some aspects of it may not be entirely legal. But Caleb is entirely on board, no matter the cost to family and relationships.
What’s the cost of being “extraordinary”? Caleb exhibits an ambition that I believe is pretty common, yet seldom explored in children’s literature: a restless desire to be more than everyone thinks. “How do you move through the world knowing that you’re special, when no one else can see it? How do you survive knowing there’s more of you than anyone will ever touch? That you’re bigger than your own skin?”
“Everybody is special in their own way,” their mom says, but that’s just mom talk. What does it really mean? The story does not hint at what I believe to be true, that every person is a body inhabited by an immortal soul created for glory. We’re all bigger than our own skin, but most of the world doesn’t know how or why, and shrug off our sense of transcendence with anodyne words like “special.” The tensions between Caleb’s “ideal” family and his friendship with Styx make for an extraordinary story. The language caution (see below) may be a deal-breaker, but characterization and theme might compensate.
Cautions: Language (3 uses of the d-word, one string of profanity at a moment of intense stress that can be interpreted as a prayer); character issues (disobedience and risk-taking, both which are dealt with)
Overall rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic value: 4.5
- How could Styx be a better friend to Caleb and Bobby Gene? How might they be better friends to him?
- Have you ever met someone who attracted you by a strong personality? Did anything about him or her put you on your guard?
- Were you happy with the ending? If now, how would you change it?