‘The Mighty Miss Malone’

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Your parents always have your best interests in mind.

That’s sometimes hard to believe—especially when they say you can’t do something you want to do. They want what’s right for you, which is hard to accept when you’re grounded. They want you to have a perfect life, which is difficult to understand when they do such a perfect job messing it up.

mighty-miss-malone

But sometimes, it’s not your parents who change your life. Sometimes, what goes on in the world can alter things, too. In “The Mighty Miss Malone” by Christopher Paul Curtis, a young girl comes of age during such a time.

Eleven-year-old Deza Malone couldn’t imagine a better place to grow up than Gary, Indiana.

Her school was there—Deza loved school, and Mrs. Needham was the best teacher in the universe. Deza, her parents, and her brother Jimmie all lived in Gary in a nice little house on a quiet street. And Deza’s best friend, Clarice Anne Johnson, lived just a few minutes away.

Yes, Gary was the perfect place to grow up, even though times were hard. It was, after all, the spring of 1936 and lots of people didn’t have jobs. Still, the Malone family had food to eat, a roof over their heads, and they had each other.

But then Deza’s mother lost her housecleaning job and Mr. Malone was hurt in a boating accident. Money got scarce and as spring turned to summer, Deza heard her parents arguing. She heard her father say that he had to go, that there were no jobs in Gary but he knew they were hiring up in Michigan. He promised he’d send money.

And just like that, he was gone.

Deza missed her father, but books gave her some comfort. Jimmie once bet Deza that she couldn’t stop reading, and he was right. She read everything she could grab, and though she hoped to read letters from her father, he never sent any.

As summer turned to fall and there was still no word from Mr. Malone, Deza’s mother called the family together. It was time, she said, to head up north. If Deza’s father was working there, they’d find him and the family would be together. But getting there would not be easy…

Got a kid who thinks life is hard? Then this slice-of-life, set some 75 years ago, can really put things into perspective.

In “The Mighty Miss Malone,” Newbery Medal-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis brings one of his most beloved characters back again. Deza Malone is funny and smart, conscientious and responsible, but she can also be smug and a little bratty—until life throws her a curve and she’s forced to grow up fast.

From an adult’s perspective, I thought there were a few story threads that were a little odd, but overall, I liked this book and I think it’s perfect for a class project, mother-daughter book club, or if your 12- to 15-year-old just wants something decent to read. For her, “The Mighty Miss Malone,” in fact, is mighty good.

(“The Mighty Miss Malone” by Christopher Paul Curtis, c.2012, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, $15.99/$18.99 Canada, 320 pages.)

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