Sometimes, life gets too hard. How can the remnants of a family hold on to what was good?
In Miracle’s Boys, Jacqueline Woodson answers the question: how does a kid survive losing both parents before he’s reached adulthood? That question must pass through every child’s mind at some point in their growing-up years. I remember asking those questions around the age of ten. Who would take care of me? Would I ever be happy again?
Winner of the 2001 Coretta Scott King Author Award, the novel is told through the eyes of Lafayette, the youngest of three boys. Laf had lost his father years before and barely remembers him, but his mom died from insulin shock, and he didn’t know how to save her. He and his brothers, Charlie and Ty’ree deal with their grief and sense of helplessness in three different ways.
Ty’ree, the oldest, sacrifices his college scholarship to take a job and support his brothers so they can remain a family. Charlie already angry over his father’s accident, finds his “family” in gang activity, and ends up in a boys’ prison for armed robbery. Lafayette, has withdrawn into himself, keeping an emotional wall between himself and the rest of the world.
While Charlie has been gone for two years, Ty’ree and Laf manage to find a quiet, comfortable relationship, but once the still-angry Charlie returns, the boys have to figure out a new dynamic. Lafayette calls him “Newcharlie” because this middle brother is not the kindhearted boy from years before. Still, Laf has hope that something will change for the better.
The story progresses as each boy faces his fears and the obstacles of living in the inner city. Can Ty’ree keep Charlie in check, or will he lose his brother once and for all to the state? Can Charlie resist the temptation of the gangs, or is he willing to trade in his anger for acknowledging the pain of his loss? Can Lafayette get Charlie to remember what a great big brother he used to be, and can Laf ever get rid of the guilt for his lack of action when his mother was dying?
- The setting gives young readers an accurate view of the inner city without getting too graphic.
- Regardless of setting, all readers identify with the problems of family. How siblings relate to each other is a key component to the plot and theme.
- Woodson does a superb job in getting the reader to eagerly flip to the next page, and the next, and the next.
Woodson covers a lot of social issues in a small space which leaves us with a sense that some problems got solved too easily. But then again, the book is aimed at young readers, as one reviewer pointed out. Miracle’s Boys serves as an introduction to a complex society.
- If you had to depend on an older brother to take care of you, how do you think you would try to help out?
- Why do you think Charlie was the only brother who reacted in anger? (Hint: this becomes clear by the end of the book.)
- How was Lafayette able to steer away from the gangs in his neighborhood?
The novel is worth reading to discover what works out for the boys—and what doesn’t.