FICTION

The Mighty Miss Malone

302p. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73491-2; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90487-2; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89736-8. LC number unavailable.
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Gr 4–7—In 1936 Gary, IN, 12-year-old Deza Malone is an outstanding student and beloved daughter in an African American family challenged by economic hardship. Her mother's job as a domestic allows them to just get by, but leaves them unable to address Deza's rotting teeth and older brother Jimmie's stunted growth. When her father seeks work in Michigan and fails to keep in touch with them, Mother packs them up to go and find him. Their journey takes them to a Hooverville camp where Jimmie's beautiful singing voice is discovered by an itinerant musician who convinces him to strike out on his own. Mother and Deza try to make a life for themselves in Flint but are discouraged by poverty and discrimination and their inability to find Father. When Deza hears that Jimmie is making it big in Detroit, she sets out to find him, starting a chain of events that lead to a hopeful yet heartbreaking conclusion. The strength of this companion to Bud, Not Buddy (Delacorte, 1999) is its vivid characterization and clear sense of place and time. Deza is an appealing, indomitable heroine whose narrative voice reflects both wit and pathos. Period details are skillfully woven into the story with the Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling fight playing an important role in underscoring the sense of defeat for African Americans as they struggle with the Depression. Careful readers may be mystified by the discrepancies between Buddy's account of meeting Deza and Deza's, and they might wish for a more comforting resolution, but Curtis does not sugarcoat reality and focuses instead on the resilience of a memorable character. An absorbing read.—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
The Great Depression has hit the desperately poor Malone family hard, and twelve-year-old Deza Malone's father must leave Indiana to search for work in Flint, Michigan. When the family doesn't hear from him, they go searching. As full of good cheer as Deza (introduced in Bud, Not Buddy) is, this angry novel is unflinching in its portrayal of poverty.
To her father, twelve-year-old Deza Malone is "my Darling Daughter Deza," "that sassy, smart, beautiful, charming little girl…my Mighty Miss Malone." But it's 1936, and the Depression has hit Gary, Indiana, hard. The loving Malone family is desperately poor and withering away. Older brother Jimmie hasn't grown in three years, Mrs. Malone's clothes hang on her, and Deza's teeth are so bad it's as if she's rotting from the inside. In one poignant scene, Deza overhears her beloved father say to her mother, "I can't breathe out of my nose when I'm near Deza because of the smell of her teeth. How sick is that?" Mr. Malone lights out for Flint, Michigan, in search of work, planning to write when his family can join him. But when they don't hear, they journey to Flint in search of him. As incandescent and full of good cheer as Deza is (and as she was when introduced in Bud, Not Buddy, rev. 11/99, as the little girl who kissed Bud in a Hooverville camp), and as funny as the book's early scenes are, this is an angry novel, unflinching in its portrayal of poverty, with plenty of resonance with the fifteen million poor children in the United States today. There's certainly a measure of hope, hard won, by the end of the novel, but this is a depiction of a family and a nation that embody poet Robert Burns's lines, much repeated here: "the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley." dean schneider

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