Inevitably, after I perform a magic trick for someone, the age-old question comes up: “How did you do that?” I usually just smile and fall back on my time-tested answer: “Magic.” This might sound strange, but there’s something about that particular answer that actually pulls people in closer. The fact that I have a secret makes me just a little bit more interesting. The same principle can work in our stories as well. This month, let’s look at two books with main characters who have a secret and see how it helps the reader relate, and even sympathize with them.

“The Season of Styx Malone”, a middle grade novel by Kekla Magoon, tells the story of two brothers living in rural Indiana. Caleb and Bobby Gene spend the summer playing in the woods behind their house. When an ill-advised trade for a sack of fireworks goes horribly wrong, the brothers flee into the woods behind their home to hide the evidence. There, they literally run into Styx Malone. Bobby Gene is wary, but Caleb is instantly enamored with Styx’s charm and style. When Styx helps them out of their fireworks jam, and then ups the ante with a promise of something even greater, Caleb jumps at the chance to break out of his ordinary life.
The “something greater” becomes known as the Great Escalator Trade, where the three boys plan to trade a list of items that increase in value until they reach their ultimate goal, a green moped. The catch, of course, is that their plan must stay secret. We of course, are let in the secret, and the ever-growing list of risks they take and lies they tell to get to their goal. As Caleb’s confidantes (the book is told in first person from his point of view), we are taken along on the roller coaster of emotions that accompany keeping the secret, and the dread that comes once it all starts to fall apart.

If you’re looking for a middle grade example with great voice and emotional tension, check out “The Season of Styx Malone”. You won’t regret it.

Xiomara Batista, heroine of the National Book Award winner “The Poet X”, has two secrets. The first is the poetry hidden inside her leather journal. The second is a boy, Aman, who she’s begun to fall for. In Elizabeth Acevedo’s incredible book in verse, it’s these two secrets that pull us into Xiomara’s life and make us want to fight alongside her.
As Xiomara begins to understand what, and who, she wants, she is confronted with the harsh reality that her dreams are far from what her mother wants for her. As a result, her secrets become more important to keep, even through the fights and punishments that come. Once her secrets are laid bare (first Aman, then the journal) Xiomara pushed to the breaking point and we stand by her side. Acevedo’s poetry, honed by years of poetry performance experience, is nothing short of breathtaking. Xiomara’s journey is a tale not to be missed. By the way, I also recommend checking out the audiobook as well, read by Acevedo herself. Hearing her poems, coming from heart, gave me chills.

That’s all for this month. Take my advice, try giving your character a secret and see where it takes your story. Have a magical month.