The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss Malone

"Powers keep on lyin'
While your people keep on dyin'"
-- Stevie Wonder, "Higher Ground"
"'My mother died four years ago.'
"'Sorry to hear that.'
"'It's OK, she didn't suffer or nothing.'
"'So where's your daddy?'
"'I think he lives in Grand Rapids, I never met  him.'
"'Sorry to hear that.' Shucks, she held right on to my hand  when she said
that. I squirmed my hand a-loose and said, ''That's OK  too.'
"Deza said, 'No it's not, and you should quit pretending that it is.'
"'Who says I'm pretending anything?'
"'I know you are, my daddy says families are the most important thing
there is. That's why me and my mama are going to wait together for him to come
back or write for us to come to him.'
"I said, 'My mother said the same thing, that families should be there for
each other all the time. She always used to tell me that no matter where I
went or what I did that she'd be there for me, even if she wasn't
somewhere that I could see her. 'She told me...'
"Shucks, there's some folks who'll have you running your mouth before you
know what you're doing. I quit talking and acted like I was having a  real
hard time drying the tin can she'd just handed me.
"'What'd she tell you, Bud?'
"I looked at Deza Malone and figured I'd never see her again in my life so
I kept shooting off my mouth. 'She would tell me every night  before I went
to sleep that no matter what happened I could sleep knowing that there had
never been a little boy, anywhere, anytime, who was loved more than she
loved me. She told me that as long as I remembered that I'd be OK.'
"'And you knew it was the truth.'
"'Just as much as I know my name's Bud, not Buddy.'"
-- BUD, NOT BUDDY p. 72-3
Back in 1999 when we first met 11 year-old Bud Caldwell, on the lam from a nightmarish foster situation and searching for his father in the multi-award-winning BUD, NOT BUDDY, we also met young Deza Malone, a resident of Flint, Michigan's Hooverville where Bud stays for a short while.

THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE is the story of this very same Deza Malone, her family, and how she, along with her mother and brother, end up in that Flint Hooverville, homeless and hungry and endlessly hoping for word to arrive from her absent father.

Deza Malone is a gifted child, a maniac reader whose scholastic abilities are recognized and nurtured by her beloved sixth grade  teacher. Deza also has a wonderful best friend. Or had one. That was all back in Gary, Indiana, when her family was together and still had a place to call home.

Matching her own giftedness, Deza's older brother is equally talented.  Jimmie's gift is his voice and singing ability.  You can so imagine these siblings going far.

But this is 1936 and things are tough for the average American  family, no less the average black American family.

Even more so than with with BUD, THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE  vividly portrays the suffering and deprivation resulting from the Great  Depression, and how this is a land of haves and have-nots. While immersed in Deza's story, I spent far less time thinking of Bud Caldwell than I did thinking of Tom Joad.  It is excruciating to think of boisterous young Deza and her ever-present problem: her disintegrating teeth which her family cannot afford to fix. Her only relief from the never-ending pain of extremely decayed teeth are  the bits of camphor-soaked cotton that she gets to stick in her throbbing, hollowed-out molars.

What hurts equally badly is what we learn of the stunning duplicity of the wealthy white woman for whom Deza's mother has spent a dozen years toiling as a housekeeper. That Deza and Jimmie carry out surreptitious and morally debatable moves to combat what they learn of Mrs. Carsdale's behavior sets up what could be a terrific discussion.

THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE, the coming-of-age story of a poor northern black girl during the Great Depression is a significant and successful departure for Christopher Paul Curtis, who has previously featured main characters who were boys.

"Hope is such hard work. It tires you out and you never seem to get any kind of reward.  Hope feels like you're a balloon that has a pinhole that slowly leaks air."
It's too bad that 75 years after Deza's and Bud's stories take place, there are still so many holes in the government safety netting that was initiated under FDR. In fact, it's often feeling, these days, like there's more hole than net.

But we keep hoping that we'll all get to reach that higher ground.

320 pages

ISBN-13: 978-0385734912

Recommended by: Richie Partington, Librarian, California, USA


When I heard that Christopher Paul Curtis had written another Depression Era novel, I was absolutely giddy. Bud, Not Buddy, was a fantastic book, and The Mighty Miss Malone is equally as good.

Deza Malone is a 12-year-old girl who has a mind of her own. Growing up in the Depression can cause stress to a family, and the Malone family is no different. Deza’s father, Roscoe, loses his job, so he is forced to find work when he can. Roscoe decides to go to Flint, Michigan, to look for work while leaving Deza, her brother Jimmie and her mother in Gary, Indiana. After Deza’s mother loses her job, they decide to follow her father to Flint. These three set off on a journey to find Deza’s father so that they could be a family again.

This novel does a great job of describing what it is like to survive during the Depression. Deza’s family had to find their way by hopping on trains and living on the streets. Deza and her brother Jimmie are two characters that you will adore. You will find yourself rooting for them throughout the story.

Recommended by Linda Kay, Librarian, Texas, USA

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The Mighty Miss Malone is one of those books you know the end is coming but don't want the story to end. I felt like I knew each of the Malones. Jimmie, 15 years old, is a good kid, not great kid, but that boy can sing. Deza is 12 and the smartest kid in and loves her teacher. A sad set of circumstances force Mother and Deza to move to Flint, Michigan. Here she is in school with black and white students. All the teachers are white and they will not give a grade better than a C to a black child, no matter how good the work is. Roscoe Malone, the dad, is desperately trying to find a job. It is after all The Great Depression of the 1930's and no jobs for Black men. Mother works for the bank presidents family the Carsdale's, cleaning their home. Mrs. Carsdale says that she is a pretty good worker and never caught her stealing, but "you know how those people are."
This is a page turner from start to finish as you follow the plights and perils of a poverty stricken Black Family,of the depression...eviction, riding the rails, predujice, no money for doctor's care so Desza soaks cotton in camphor to place in her cavities to ease the pain a bit, living in shanty towns, family separation...
Christopher Paul Curtis has done extensive research with this work of historical fiction. Be sure to read the afterward about the Joe Louis and Max Smellinbg fight that took place in Yankee Stadium.

Reading Level 4.7

Historical Fiction

Adolescent Issues
African American History
Great Depression
Family Life
Homelessness and Poverty
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