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The Season of Styx Malone

Review

The Season of Styx Malone

THE SEASON OF STYX MALONE by Kekla Magoon is about more than its titular character. The story is told from the perspective of Caleb Franklin, and revolves mainly around the impact Styx has on Caleb and his older brother Bobby Gene. Caleb is hung up on two words throughout the novel: ordinary and extraordinary. He does not want to be labeled either because he sees extraordinary as an even more extreme version of ordinary. Caleb Franklin wants to be different; he wants to stand out from the crowd, he wants to accomplish great things and, perhaps most of all, he wants to venture outside his hometown of Sutton, Indiana. To Caleb, Styx Malone is the ticket out of the town where the adults’ daily lives consist of such mundane activities as watching the news every hour of the day and checking the paper to see if anyone they know has died.

"Subjects were handled subtly but effectively throughout the novel. I would highly recommend this book to children and parents alike, as it provides perspective..."

The boys quite literally run into Styx while sprinting through the woods behind their house, attempting to stash illegal fireworks they had recently acquired through trade with another neighborhood boy. Styx promises to help rid Caleb and B.G. of their contraband through what he refers to as an escalator trade --- they will continue exchanging items for slightly more valuable items until they reach their goal. In this case, the goal is a moped the boys name “The Grasshopper.” Throughout the summer, the Franklins engage in a number of activities their parents would never approve of, and a rift begins to develop between the two brothers. Caleb, wanting to break free of the strict confines their father has set for them, is willing to do anything Styx Malone suggests, no matter how questionable the legality or morality of the action. Bobby Gene is not as keen on breaking the rules. During their adventures, the boys learn more about Styx --- and the tough realities sometimes faced by others --- than they had anticipated and an unbreakable friendship is formed.

Styx teaches Caleb and Bobby Gene about the wild, adventurous side of life. He especially opens Caleb up to the idea of freedom. When he is with Styx, Caleb does not think twice about something like hopping a freight train without any idea where he will end up or when he will make it home. The desire to tap into this recklessness has been within Caleb all his life and by the end of the book, he learns to balance the wild --- represented by Styx --- and the practical --- represented by his father. Bobby Gene is the manifestation of this balance, and Caleb comes to recognize this eventually, appreciating the role his brother plays in aiding understanding between Caleb and Mr. Franklin.

There are many layers to this story, and one of the most important is the idea that children can have as profound an impact on adults as adults can on children. At the beginning of this tale, Mr. Franklin is so concerned about the safety of his sons that he does not let them venture beyond the Sutton town line. By the end, he has become more flexible in his views and is able to relinquish some of the control he was holding onto. This would not have happened without the presence of Styx Malone.

Issues of race and the foster care system are heavily present, but are only rarely directly addressed. Many of the social and emotional problems faced by Styx are due to the situations he has been placed in by child protective services (referred to by the local Indiana acronym DCS in the book), and it seems as though Mr. Franklin’s overprotective tendencies stem from a fear of racial discrimination or prejudice. These subjects were handled subtly but effectively throughout the novel.

I would highly recommend this book to children and parents alike, as it provides perspective on seemingly troublesome friendships, growing up as a person of color in a predominantly white area, and the emotional difficulties caused by being raised in the foster care system.

Reviewed by Kat Baumgartner on October 25, 2018

The Season of Styx Malone
by Kekla Magoon