Miracle’s Boys Summary

Jacqueline Woodson

Miracle’s Boys

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Miracle’s Boys Summary

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Miracle’s Boys (2000) by American author Jacqueline Woodson follows a seventh grade boy grieving the recent death of his mother. The novel won the 2001 Coretta Scott King Award, given to the best book primarily intended for an African-American youth audience. Woodson is a prominent writer. She received the National Book Award for Children’s Literature in 2014 for her novel Brown Girl Dreaming. Miracle’s Boys centers around themes of guilt, emotional trauma, gang violence, and brotherly love. Though the novel takes place over the course of only 48 hours, it Is loaded with powerful flashbacks to give readers the full story of the orphaned Bailey brothers.

The protagonist and first person narrator, 12-year-old Lafayette Bailey (nickname: Laf), can’t get over the death of his mother, who he saw die from an adverse reaction to insulin. She was diabetic, and he found her in a coma. Though everyone agrees he couldn’t have helped her, he continues to blame himself for her death. He lives in fear that what little family he has left—his two older brothers—will leave him like she did. The three brothers had a mother born in Puerto Rico and an African-American father born in Brooklyn, New York. Laf relates how he tries to hold on to his mother by learning her language, Spanish, and studying photos of her. Her name was Miracle, hence the novel’s title. At times, Laf imagines he can see his mother and talk to her.

22-year-old Ty’ree Bailey is slightly resentful that he gave up a scholarship to MIT to become a full-time caretaker for his brothers; he was planning to work for NASA. He, like Lafayette, is also haunted by death. When he was a young child, Ty’ree saw his father, named Layfayette, save a white woman and her dog from drowning in a freezing lake in Central Park. His father died from hypothermia. Ty’ree still feels great guilt over his father’s death; as a little boy, he was the one prodding his father to go save the woman.

When the middle child, 15-year-old Charlie Bailey (nickname: Cha), returns to live with Ty’ree and Lafayette, challenges ensue. Charlie is contrarian by nature and spent the past two years in a juvenile detention center after being convicted of an armed robbery at Poncho’s Candy Store. To the great surprise of everyone, Charlie somehow got ahold of a gun. Charlie responds to his brothers’ efforts to bond with annoyance and barely concealed contempt. Charlie would much rather hang out with his friend Aaron than even talk to his younger brother.

The past two years have changed Charlie so severely that Laf hardly recognizes him, and he takes to calling him “Newcharlie.” Laf says that Charlie used to include him in everything. He used to teach him to not stereotype other people; he’d also entertain him with all kinds of stories. Charlie was also known for saving stray animals. But now, he’s often angry.

Newcharlie disturbs the quiet life Ty’ree and Lafayette built for themselves during his absence. With great world-weariness, he ranks the ethnic groups he encountered in juvenile in descending order of “baddest.” Charlie has learned to shut down all of his emotions to appear “tough” like the peers he admires. He resists even saying “brother to brother,” the code that Ty’ree taught them all to say whenever they felt the urge to say, “I love you.” Laf still wants Charlie around him. He’s afraid that if Charlie is convicted of another crime, Charlie will be disallowed from living with them and forced to stay in foster care. Without Charlie, his old world—the world that included his mother—will be forever lost.

When Charlie returns to the neighborhood, he must decide whether he wants to continue hanging out with the street gang that led him to commit the armed robbery in the first place, or if he wants to honor the memory of his mother and become a dependable brother for Laf and Ty’ree. For much of the novel, it appears that Charlie will choose the gnag. After an afternoon of alternately teasing or ignoring Laf, Aaron and Charlie leave the apartment. While watching TV, Laf’s mind wanders. He thinks about his mother seeing Charlie in handcuffs. He knows that Charlie feels anguish over the fact this was her last image of him. The tipping point of this narrative comes when Laf, having talked to Ty’ree about Charlie ignoring him, takes Ty’ree’s advice and asks to speak with Charlie openly. By being open himself, Laf allows Charlie to be honest with himself. Miracle’s Boys concludes with the two brothers restoring their former bond.