Aug 19, 2009

Miracle's Boys by Jacqueline Woodson

Miracle's Boys by Jacqueline Woodson

Since his mother died, Lafayette has been living alone with his two brothers. Ty’ree, the eldest, takes care of Lafayette and Charlie. Lafayette’s nickname for Charlie, to whom he was once very close, is Newcharlie: since his brother returned from Rahway, a detention centre, he can no longer recognize the Charlie he used to love. As Lafayette tells us his story, we learn about how these three boys are dealing with loneliness and loss, with anger and vulnerability, with being orphaned at such a young age, with living in poverty, and simply with growing up.

This is only a quick outline – the book is a very short one, so if I tell you more I’ll be telling you too much. But despite only being 130 pages long, Miracle’s Boys packs a lot. There are flashbacks to Lafayette’s father’s death, which happened before he was born; there’s the story of why Charlie was sent to Rahway; there’s everything Ty’ree had to give up to raise his brothers on his own; there are the boys’ different emotional responses to the situation they’re in.

What I liked the most about Miracle’s Boys was the depth of the characterization. The characters are all so human – they're not perfect, but they're never vilified either, despite the mistakes they make. Indeed, one of the main things Lafayette learns is that his brothers are human, neither monsters nor saints; that despite being older than he is, they too are young boys who are scared and alone.

The fact that all three of the characters are boys allows Jacqueline Woodson to explore how outside expectations of rough and so-called manly behaviour clash with the grief they’re feeling. This is particularly noticeable with Charlie, once a stray-animal-saving boy, who now deals with his emotions by treating everyone with hostility and by hanging out with gang members he used to cross the street to avoid. Miracle's Boys takes a look at what some of the consequences of this idealization of violence can be, and it provides an alternative in the end.

Miracle’s Boys had quite a strong emotional impact on me. Even though bad things happen to these kids, it’s not a bleak book by any means, and it didn’t leave me sad. But it did make me count my blessings, and it made think about how we can come to expect those who are close to us to be superhuman without even realizing we’re doing it.

Favourite passages:
Sometimes I stared in the mirror and was surprised to see how little and lost I looked. That was how Ty’ree looked now—like he was waiting for somebody to take his hand and show him the way home.

Ty’ree was all right after Mama died. But I was all wrong. The year before, I’d seen this show about snakes. They showed this one snake slipping out of its old skin and then leaving the old skin on the ground behind him. That’s how I felt—like Mama’d been my skin. But I hadn’t grown a new skin underneath, like the snake had. I twas just blood and bones spreading all over the place.
Reviewed at:
Maw Books

(Did I miss yours?)

22 comments:

  1. Ooh, I love the snake skin metaphor. That's really good writing...

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  2. I love your reviews. This is one Woodson title I haven't read. Thanks.

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  3. I have heard good things about this author, and your review has piqued my interest in this book. Thanks!

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful book with great characters.

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  5. She sure can pack a lot into short books. I'm always impressed to when authors use the opposite gender as protagonists and do a good job at it. Thanks for the review!!!

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  6. I just recently read this book, but I haven't reviewed it yet. She's a great author. I look forward to more from her!

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  7. Oh, I'm thrilled that you loved this book! I love Woodson so much. I've had a chance to meet her too and she was seriously the NICEST! I thought this book was fantastic. I love seeing bloggers reviewing Woodson's books.

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  8. I've never heard of this book before. Thanks for the review.

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  9. This sounds like a really interesting book. I like the fact that the characters are drawn with an even hand, and that you can recognize both the goodness and badness in them. I will be looking out for this book. Great review!

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  10. this does sound interesting.
    I like that first quote.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  11. I've not heard of this author so thanks so much for bringing it to my attention! This sounds like a good book with interesting characters!

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  12. I love your book selection. I don't have this particular Woodson book on my library shelves but I'm going to have to change that!!

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  13. I would like to read this, as I am now getting quite a collection of her books. :) They are short but powerful...that's a gift I think!

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  14. I like the quotes you picked out. This is the first time I read about this author and definitely something that I'd love to read.

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  15. I love that I am seeing Jacqueline Woodson's books pop up I just discovered her through browsing around and I took a chance and got her book Hush, which I really enjoyed. This one sounds like a good one too.

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  16. Amanda: I loved it too.

    Susan, thank you! I'm sure you'll enjoy this one when you get to it.

    Laughing Stars: I kept hearing good things about her too, so I figured I'd give her a try at last!

    Bermudaonion: It is, and characterization is up there on my list of selling points.

    rhapsodyinbooks: She really can! I like it when authors write characters write characters of the opposite gender and do it well too, as it helps defeat the idea that men and women are so different they could almost be members of different species :P

    Kailana: I wish I'd known you'd read it! We could have co-reviewed. It's so funny how we keep picking up the same books :P

    Natasha: I saw the picture you took with her - lucky! :D I can see why you love her, and I'll definitely read her again!

    Andreea: That's one of the things that happens when you blog :P All these previously unheard of books and authors start appearing everywhere!

    Zibilee: I hope you enjoy it when you get to it :) I liked that a lot too.

    Naida, glad you like it!

    Melody: You're most welcome! I also have fellow bloggers to thank for bringing her to my attention.

    Staci: Do! Your library needs them :P

    Amy: I think so too!

    Alice, I hope you enjoy it :)

    Nicole: I have Hush (as well as several of her others) on my wishlist. I'm really looking forward to reading more of her work.

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  17. How bizarre, I checked this book out at the library the last time I went. I'm really interested in reading books about brothers at the moment. I have a long post coming up about it. I think after your review that this probably doesn't fit into what I was looking for, but it still sounds interesting.

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  18. I read this book a few years ago for a children's lit class and I loved it! I think I also read a few other books by this author. What a great book.

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  19. Michelle: I look forward to your post on brothers! But yes, even if it doesn't fit it's worth reading.

    Nan: This was my first by her, but I'll definitely read more.

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  20. I do love a book that makes me stop and think and be grateful for everything I have.

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  21. Sounds fun. It's always good to find short books that really make an impact. It's a whole different style of writing.

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  22. I just read this for a english project. It was riveting and full of emotion. I would have liked to learn what the time it was based in, and where in New York they were living. (it would have made my life a hell of a lot easier for this report I have to do.)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.