34 pages 1 hour read

Jacqueline Woodson

Miracle's Boys

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1996

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Summary and Study Guide


Miracle’s Boys (2000) is a young adult novel by Jaqueline Woodson. The novel tells the story of three brothers, ages 21, 15, and 12, coping with the sudden death of their mother a year before. The middle brother, Charlie, recently returned home from a juvenile detention facility, where he was serving a two-year sentence for attempting to rob a candy store at gun point. Set in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City, Miracle’s Boys delves into guilt, blame, and grief following the death of Milagros “Miracle” Bailey.

The author of several New York Times bestsellers, Woodson is best known for her middle grade memoir Brown Girl Dreaming—which won the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson’s books received Newberry Honors thrice, and she received the MacArthur Genius Award, the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Caldecott Medal. Her work frequently focuses on love, death, memory, racial division, and social justice.

This guide refers to the 2000 paperback edition by Puffin Books: A Division of Penguin.

Content Warning: This guide references gang violence.

Plot Summary

The novel opens with Lafayette watching his older brother, Charlie, and Charlie’s friend Aaron, preparing for a night out. Two months before, Charlie returned from Rahway Home for Boys, a detention center where he carried out a two-year robbery sentence. Lafayette now refers to him as “Newcharlie,” insisting he is no longer the same person. Charlie berates Lafayette, blaming him for their mother’s unexpected death from insulin shock.

While the boys are out, Lafayette watches TV and thinks about his father’s death. When Lafayette’s mother was pregnant with him, his father saved a woman and dog that fell through a frozen pond in Central Park. His father later died of hypothermia. Lafayette recounts his mother’s funeral, and his great-aunt Cecile coming from the south. Though Cecile wanted Lafayette to live with her, Lafayette’s oldest brother, Ty’ree, obtained legal guardianship.

Ty’ree returns from work and prepares a chicken dinner that Lafayette requested. They don’t know where Charlie is. Ty’ree hopes Charlie is behaving well: If he does not, Lafayette will be sent to live permanently with great-aunt Cecile. Ty’ree invites Lafayette to see a movie in the city after dinner. Lafayette reflects on finding their mother unresponsive in bed. He’d gone looking for her when she was not in the kitchen, where she’d always made his breakfast. Lafayette knows that his mother’s death is not his fault, but sometimes, he believes Charlie’s accusations. He recalls Charlie attempting to save a dying dog and the sadness and guilt Charlie felt when it died. He thinks of the family’s visit to Puerto Rico—where his mother was from—and the brothers’ dream of returning. Ty’ree now works to support the brothers.

Ty’ree and Lafayette leave for the movie, and their talk turns to Charlie and the robbery. Lafayette grows upset, telling Ty’ree about Charlie’s cruel accusations. Ty’ree suggests getting something warm to drink and, over hot chocolate, he tells Lafayette of their father’s death, revealing that he was present when it happened. Lafayette is angry that Ty’ree kept this detail a secret. Ty’ree insists that Charlie’s meanness stems from his frustration over being absent during their mother’s death.

That night, Ty’ree wakes Lafayette, telling him they must go to the police station. There, they find Charlie, bruised and battered. He was apprehended as a passenger in a stolen car; the police release him to Ty’ree. At home, Charlie recounts Aaron inviting him to a party, which turned out to be a gang initiation. When Charlie realized that he was expected to fight another boy, he attempted to leave but was beaten up. Then, he was placed in a car and told he would be driven home. Charlie is upset that Aaron misled him.

The next day, the boys sleep late. Lafayette is woken by a phone call—a friend asks him to play basketball. On the court, Lafayette runs into Aaron, who berates Charlie for backing out of the initiation. Lafayette defends Charlie, then walks home. He finds Charlie sitting on the front stoop, holding a bag of ice to his face. The brothers talk, and Charlie explains that he tried to rob the store so that the family could visit Puerto Rico again. He confesses his sadness over the loss of their mother. Ty’ree approaches and suggests they see a movie. Charlie and Ty’ree joke and laugh, and Lafayette wishes to stay in the moment forever.