________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 35 . . . . May 11, 2012


The Mighty Miss Malone.

Christopher Paul Curtis.
New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2012.
307 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-0-385-73491-2.

Subject Headings:
Family life-Fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**** /4



"Once upon a time ... "

If I could get away with it, that's how I'd begin every essay I write.

Those are the four best words to use when you start telling about yourself because anything that begins that way always, always finishes with another four words "... they lived happily everafter."

And that's a good ending for any story.

I shut my dictionary and thesaurus and went back over my essay for the last time.

The best teacher in the world, Mrs. Karen Needham, had given us an assignment to write about our families. I knew, just like always, she was going to love mine. She's only asked for two pages but this was our last essay for the year, so I wrote six.

[quote] Once upon a time ... in Gary, Indiana, lived a family of three very special, very happy and uniquely talented people. I am the fourth member of that family and much too modest to include myself in such a grandiose description of their exalted number. But many people say I am of the same ilk and for that I remain internally grateful.

It's no fun being poor; it's no fun being out of work, especially during the Depression in the U.S.; and -- face it -- it wasn't a lot of fun being black then either. Prejudice was still rampant, and black people only got jobs that no white would do. However, none of that kept Deza Malone from enjoying life, finishing grade 6 at the top of her class, taking out books and books and more books from the Gary Public Library with her BFF (before the phrase was even conceived) Clarice; and thinking her family was the best in the world. When disaster struck, however, there was no back up, no Plan B, for survival. Father -- funny, punning, clever -- had an accident that meant he could no longer do the hard physical labour that was all that was ever available for him, in spite of his being a trained carpenter. He felt he had to return to his home-town of Flint to see what he could find there. But he didn't write, and certainly didn't send the money he had promised. Mother lost her job as a cleaner. Consequently, when she, Deza, and her older brother Jimmy got evicted from their home, there was really no option other than riding the rails to Flint to try to find him. They lived for a time in one of the many shanty-towns that sprang up on the outskirts of so many American cities during the Depression, lived there, in fact, until it was raided by the police. They survived as best they could. Through it all, Deza managed to find cause for hope -- even when the teachers gave her only Cs on her assignments because they 'knew' that a black girl could not have done the work she did. And the family, even when separated, stuck together in the ways that mattered, and looked after each other.

     The Mighty Miss Malone is not a comfortable book. It peers at the fabric of society as it was and shows its dirty spots, its weak threads, and its unfairness. Unfortunately, it also shows that not all that much has changed. There are still the poor, the hungry and the outcasts, and the gap between them and the affluent is just as wide as ever. However, there are still those like the Mighty Miss Malone, her father's Darling Daughter Deza (or Dar Daut for short) who will triumph in spite of setbacks, and this makes this novel one of hope and even inspiration. Families will continue to be units of society, and lives can be changed though not without difficulty. A bit of good will on the part of the affluent wouldn't do any harm either.

Deza is a wonderful character, idealistic yet down to earth, taking things as they come and working with what she can find. I'm proud to have made her acquaintance.

Highly Recommended.

Mary Thomas has retired from working in Winnipeg school libraries, but she continues to enjoy reading the books she was recommending there.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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