Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
We all know of particular relationships that make others wonder how they work. This month we will explore four books that feature unusual relationships that make us scratch our heads and ask how on earth they work. But somehow they do, and when they do intriguing communities come into being giving us hope. Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson continue their discussion of these relationships through books that highlight them.
JEAN: The Season of Styx Malone (2018) by Kekla Magoon is another story that had me questioning the relationships. Ten–year–old Caleb and his eleven–year–old brother, Bobby Gene Franklin, build a connection with 16–year–old foster child, Styx Malone. The Franklin parents keep a very tight rein on their kids, and the dad in particular is adamant about staying within their own small community. But Caleb wants to be more than ordinary, and Styx is much more worldly. Caleb, pulling Bobby Gene along, pursues a friendship with Styx. And Styx leads them into all kinds of new adventures. What baffled me from the beginning is that Mrs. Franklin was aware of this growing friendship, but didn’t seem to keep a close eye on it. To watch the younger boys spend so much time with a teenager they really knew little about seemed unusual.
HOLLY: Yes, at first the relationship between Styx and the brothers was interesting to me because of the age difference. But while Styx was older, in many ways he was still developing his capacity for relationship, family, and connection. What I loved about this book was Styx’s capacity to create better and better deals that allowed him to become, in many ways, a hero to younger Caleb. Caleb’s sticking up for Styx was also an assertion that was especially positive for me. The boys had created a deep friendship over the summer season, and to betray that relationship would have been a betrayal of trust, but perhaps even much more because of Styx’s vulnerability that existed under his bravado.
This book poignantly reveals the vulnerability of foster children, and perhaps that is what the boys’ mother saw in Styx even as she would admonish the boys for hanging out with him. What did you find as pieces of connection that especially resonated with you, Jean?
JEAN: I agree with you that Styx is a master at bargaining! It represents a sense of hope. He sees all sorts of possible ways to improve his state of being. I found the minor character of Styx’s younger sister playing a subtly bigger role than one might think. While Styx lived in a world of reality, his sister seemingly dealt with their situation by living at least part time in a fantasy world thereby demonstrating different ways foster children handle living without a stable family life. There is also the constant pull between Mr. Franklin and his insistence that the boys do not know the world outside of their small town and Caleb’s desire to be “more than ordinary” and to see the larger community he knows is out there.
HOLLY: The Season of Styx Malone is a lovely book that allows readers to think about how this fictional narrative represents aspects of actual narratives within our world and how the relationship between the three boys and their differences creates an endearing community full of hope and promise. The disconnected youth, the openness of young boys, the care and concern of parents who want the best for their children, which often creates tensions due to stereotypes and undeserved assumptions about adolescents. Ultimately, it is a book that flies in the face of assumptions readers may hold about young people, their capacity for rising above the limited worlds they are handed, and their capacity for finding not only a voice, but a home worthy of them.
Title: The Season of Styx Malone
Author: Kekla Magoon
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Date Published: December 03, 2019
Throughout November 2019, Jean and Holly give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!