What covertly-magical birthday present would you give to a 14-year-old boy?

In case anyone’s counting, this is thread number 78,539 on my novel in progress. As always, I’m brainstorming. I apologize if I’m bugging by harping on the subject–but hey, you can just skip the thread if you want.

Here’s a little background. My story is set in 1987; the main characters are Andy, age 14, and his best friend, Hannah, age 13. I’m working on my third or fourth draft. It’s an urban fantasy. By that, I mean that, although the story is set in the “real” world (at least the first half, anyway) there is a significant magical element.

In the chapter I’m currently rewriting, the two protagonists are at the birthday party of Andy’s older sister, Rosemary, age 19. Andy and Rosemary are the children of a single mother; their father, Andrew Senior, was a Marine gunnery sergeant and Vietnam vet who dies in a plane crash in 1983, immediately before the story begins. In the four years since, Andy and Rosemary have each gotten mysterious presents from an anonymous giver every birthday and Christmas. The presents are always something appropriate for the child, and of mysterious provenance. Though neither the children nor the reader know it as this point of the story, the gifts are coming from a magical creature who feels a debt of honor to Andy’s family, and who has come to love both Andy and Rosemary as if they were its own children. The creature does not wish to reveal its existence to Andy & Co., however.

This year, Rosemary has gotten a copy of God’s Trombones, a collection of poems by her favorite author; the book is leather-bound with gilt paper, color plates illustrating each poem, and so forth. When Rosemary shows the younger children the gift, Hannah notices that there is no copyright page; she comments that it must have cost a fortune. Rosemary replies that it’s probably no more expensive than the present Andy got for his last birthday.

The question is, what is that present? It’s not all important to the plot (while the choice of Trombones for Rosemary is; I’ll just be mentioning it in a throwaway line. But I do want it to be something that shows the gift-giver is knows Andy very well and cares deeply for him.

A few facts about Andy:

  1. He idolizes his father and wants to follow in his footsteps; he thinks of appropriate
    and honorable behavior as behaving like a leatherneck. A major reason that he’s so close to Hannah is because she needs protection in ways that his sister and mother do not, and being her big brother makes him feel as if he’s following in his father’s footsteps. He is forever telling her stories about his father’s heroism during the war, particularly during the battle of Khe Sanh.

  2. Andy has an undiagnosed learning disability, probably dyslexia; thus reading is a huge chore for him, and he does not enjoy it–except perhaps comic books. Nonetheless he has a great deal of common sense and reasoning ability–he’s good at plotting strategies in games, for instance–though he doesn’t give himself any credit for that.

  3. Rosemary believes in her brother’s native intelligence and puts a great deal of effort into helping him with his schoolwork; she’s the one who pushes him to work hard.

  4. Their mother, Beatrice, does not believe Andy is at all intelligent; he is, in her view, simply slow. Thus she doesn’t see the point of pushing him. Andy resents her unspoken assumption that he is stupid, though at this point in the story that resentment is unvoiced even in his own mind.

  5. Andy is a skilled and talented athlete. His favorite sport is baseball, because that was his father’s sport of choice, but he plays basketball and football too. He’s always the first one chosen when picking teams.

Put yourself in the shoes of the anonymous gift-giver. What gift would you have given Andy on his 14th birthday?

Thanks in advance,

A pair of athletic shoes with no identifiable brand name or logo. They fit perfectly, don’t seem to get dirty and always stay springy.

He’s 14. A magic Playboy where the centerfold comes to life and does his bidding whenever he is alone.

Bah…second try at posting this. Hamsters ate the first attempt.

How about an elaborate chess set, with the pieces carved into unusual, but not obviously otherworldly, shapes? Perhaps the set has other unique qualities that are only apparrent under certain conditons…

I think a carefully hand crafted & “Crafted”* baseball bat that lets him swing a little faster and hit the ball a little further and would not break would be an excellent gift.


  • Let the “craft” be whatever enchantments, spells, magic or abnormally skilled craftwork that your universe allows. I love the idea of a Eccentric Carpenter that lives deep in the woods and makes almost magical toys and puts a bit of loving care into his projects to act like magic. He chooses the wood for each project specially from even living trees he cares for or well aged scraps he keeps in his ramshackle looking barn or shed.

“That old-looking radio you always tinker with that gets all those weird broadcasts.”

A compass.

Why? I’m not sure. It just popped into my head. A gift to you from my right-brain, I guess.

Now, from my memory of being 14, I can tell you that my most-prized posessions were my absent father’s marksmanship medals, my imitation status-symbol athletic shoes, my basketball, and my bicycle, but that I’d have thrown it all away for the girl down the street.

Hasn’t that been done, sorta? Some baseball movie about a guy that uses a bat made from a tree hit by lightning…maybe The Natural?

Not really the same, I was not planning on the kid being turned into a star player and getting shot. Just something to make playing ball better. Beside I think there is something special about building wooded toys in your own shop.


That’s a really good one. It’s succinct enough so that I sum it up in a line; I can easily imagine Andy, in planning for making the Marines his life’s work, seeing uses for it; and it’s something the Creature can make wonderfully elegant, useful, and useful without being obviously magical. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been trying to think of.

Got any other ideas?

Well, the Creature isn’t going to be giving him any girls, and Andy already has access to medals & such; in the scene in question, he and Hannah are looking at his father’s Silver Star, which is totemic for each of them, albeit for different reasons.

OK, I’ve got another one.

A lot GI’s have brought a harmonica to the front lines with them, so you could imagine that Andy’s dad might have had one, and therefore that Andy might want one, too.

Also, I know you’ve said that Andy doesn’t like to read much, but I’m reminded of a friend from high school, who also was not a good reader, but who virtually memorized every “Pocket Guide to Military Aircraft” or “Pocket Guide to Small Arms”- type book he could find. Those might work, I suppose, depending on what you’re looking for. I once had a vest pocket-sized copy of “The Art of War”, which might just have been thick enough to stop a bullet. :slight_smile:

A pair of glasses that cure his dyslexia.

I should have made more clear that I’m brainstorming for an object magical in origin, not in operation or capacity. The Creature is giving Andy and Rosemary the sorts of presents it imagines their father would have; Rosemary gets a copy of God’s Trombones , f’instance, because their father used to read from it in church, and the cheap paperback copy he left behind is falling apart from her and his multiple readings. Hence my liking the compass idea; it’s something I can easily imagine a gunnery sergeant picking as a good gift for his son.

Anybody have more ideas along those lines?

That was the plot of a Simpsons episode. What is this The Natural?

Sorry, I meant to post a suggestion as well. Hmm, how about some sort of knife or the like? A service-style knife, not something like a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman.

A medal that had been presented to Andy’s father while in the service (and the written commendation that proves it) that his family had never known about.

How about a metal lock-box? I don’t know what they are called, but my SO has one from his military time and I’d love to see what is in it. 14 year old boys have many treasures that must be both hidden and protected.