The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Deza loves school, loves to read, and dreams of being a writer. However, the Great Depression is raging in Gary, Indiana and her father has been unable to find work for some time. Deza finds solace in her best friend and in her teacher, who has offered to tutor them both when school starts again. When her father is almost killed in a boating accident, he doesn’t return as the same funny, smart man. Instead he is withdrawn and almost silent, deciding soon after recovering to head up to Michigan to try to find work. Deza’s mother refuses to let the family be separated and takes Deza and her brother on the road to follow him. Unfortunately, the journey to becoming a complete family again is not that easy, taking them on a long road that will challenge them all.
Curtis’ writing is marvelous. He renders the Great Depression with great detail, giving modern readers a way to not only understand the past but tie it directly to our present. He also shows us the depth of poverty in the Depression, offering a view not only of the shanty town but of the kindness that could be found there too. Nothing is simple in this book, the setting and time is complicated and the characters are complex.
Deza herself is a stellar protagonist, who loses much but keeps on moving and caring deeply. She is luminous in the book, made fascinating by the small touches. Her life is filled with challenges, including her rotting teeth, but they make her stronger and become coping mechanisms that make her all the more memorable.
The depiction of this African American family that falls on hard times is one of deep caring, expansive love, and incredible strength. While her father may leave to find a job, readers will know that his reasons for doing so are complicated and very human. One feels the same thing for all of the characters in the book, no matter how minor. They all seem to be carrying their own stories with them, even if they are just in a few pages. This is a world populated with human beings with pasts and futures.
This book cut right into my heart and lived there as I read it. When I finished it, I wept because of the power, the people, and the story. This is a wrenchingly honest, beautifully written, and noteworthy novel that I simply adored. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.