The Mighty Miss Malone
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Intermediate, Middle School Lamb/Random 309 pp.
1/12 978-0-385-73491-2 $15.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-90487-2 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89736-8 $10.99
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.”
From the March/April 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.