Miracles by Kekla Magoon
“Styx Malone didn’t believe in miracles, but he was one,” begins my new middle grade novel, The Season of Styx Malone. Caleb Franklin is stuck feeling ordinary, trapped in his small town. He desperately wants to be special, particularly after his father tells him he’s not merely ordinary but “extra” ordinary. Caleb misunderstands, and is devastated.
This moment sets ten-year-old Caleb on a quest to make himself stand out from the crowd, but his initial attempts at glory turn out all wrong. Caleb makes a mistake that gets him and his brother Bobby Gene in big trouble, and before they know it, the brothers find themselves running through the woods with a bag of contraband fireworks.
Enter sixteen-year-old Styx Malone, the boys’ across-the-woods neighbor. Styx is dazzling, talented, charming and fun. He’s completely unintimidated by the ill-gotten fireworks—on the spot, he devises a plan to not only get rid of them, but to turn a profit for him and the boys to share. Styx promises adventure and excitement, pushing boundaries all the while. He’s the stuff miracles are made of, as far as Caleb is concerned.
Miracles have all sorts of social and religious connotations, I know. This is not a novel about actual magic, but about the sort of magic one person can wield on another, the powerful kind of influence borne of admiration and authority. The same type of magic that inspiring teachers and mentors often wield over students, knowingly or not. These past weeks, as I prepare for this latest book to come out, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who have inspired and shaped me, and helped me become the writer I am today.
I think about my mom, who took me to the library every week, and let me check out more books than I could feasibly read in the allotted time. I don’t know why there was so much joy and satisfaction for me in lugging a huge stack home and bringing them back again and again. But I’m still happiest when I’m surrounded by books, and I’m grateful that my mom nurtured my imagination and my ambition in big and small ways.
I think about my African American literature professor, Pam Harkins, who recognized something extraordinary in me and took me under her wing. She was perhaps the first person who took my writing seriously. I remember the moment she handed back my first memoir essay about being a biracial child, because she said, “You need to keep writing.” I remember because I thought it was so weird. I didn’t see much that was special about that two page essay. I probably wrote it in a panic at midnight the night before it was due. (She’s probably reading this right now…sorry, Prof. H!) The point is, when she said that, when she explained to me that a narrative like mine was powerful and needed to be shared, it opened my eyes to something. I remember that she used the word “narrative” because that made me feel important.
I think, too, about my own students, and what I might be able to say or do that encourages them to believe in themselves more than they knew possible. How many of them feel ordinary? How many have tried to be noticed or get attention in all the wrong ways? How many of them could use a little jolt of confidence and an adventure that takes them outside the boundaries they’ve drawn to define what is possible? As teachers, do we use our power for good? How do we know for sure?
Beneath the madcap summer adventure beats the heart of the story: Caleb wants to be seen, appreciated, and given a chance to spread his wings. Isn’t that what all of our students want, deep down?
In the end, Styx’s miracle isn’t about who he is, but about what he sees in his young friend Caleb, and how his belief helps Caleb see himself as more than ordinary. I hope that, as a writer, my books can inspire readers to see themselves as more than ordinary. I hope that, as a teacher, my guidance can inspire my students to believe in their unique voices. You don’t have to believe in miracles to be one.
Kekla Magoon is the author of nine novels, including The Rock and the River, How It Went Down, X: A Novel (with Ilyasah Shabazz), and the Robyn Hoodlum Adventure series. She has received an NAACP Image Award, the John Steptoe New Talent Award, two Coretta Scott King Honors, The Walter Award Honor, the In the Margins Award, and been long listed for the National Book Award. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics. Kekla conducts school and library visits nationwide and serves on the Writers’ Council for the National Writing Project. Kekla holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she now serves on faculty. Visit her online at keklamagoon.com.