The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss Malone (2012) by Christopher Paul Curtis is a young adult/ middle-grade historical novel set primarily in Gary, Indiana during the Great Depression, featuring 12-year old Deza Malone. In creating Deza, Curtis, a Newberry and Coretta Scott King-award winning author, (for Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963) has imagined one of the most unforgettable, plucky, and lovable characters as I’ve met in a while.

Deza lives with her mother, father, and older brother Jimmie (who has the voice of an angel) in Gary, and she’s such a good student that when asked to write a 2-page essay, she writes 6 pages! Her most annoying trait is that she talks too much, and is a bit of a know-it-all, but her dream is to read every book in the Gary Public Library. I could relate to Deza even though it’s been a long time since I was 12.

The Depression has hit Gary hard, though, and there’s not enough work even at the steel mills as a janitor for her father, so he sets off to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to try to find work. After a little while, Jimmie thinks he can make money singing, so he leaves, too. Deza and her mother can’t keep the apartment, so they go to Flint via Chicago and riding the rails, to try to find her father, and end up in a tent in a Hooverville for a while. Someone keeps sending money to their attention to General Delivery at the Flint post office, and she thinks it has to be their father.

Attending school while living in a tent isn’t easy, but Deza becomes part of the welcoming committee for the continual newcomers to the encampment. It is truly “hard times” for the Malones, but they never lose hope.

The only reference to fatness was when Deza described a woman as “what Mother told me I should say is “big-boned”.” So I would classify the book as pretty weight-neutral.

I highly recommend The Mighty Miss Malone as a look into history and what it was like for many. many people, and why a social safety net is so important.

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