Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Not surprisingly, coming from a Newbery-winning author, The Mighty Miss Malone is both a pleasurable read and a well-researched story.  Set in 1936 and 37, this novel for middle-grade readers (I'm thinking grades 4-8) follows the Malone family as they struggle with the effects of the Great Depression.  Because they are African American, options in 1930s America are limited, even in Gary, Indiana.  We watch through the eyes of 12-year-old Deza as matters go from bad to worse, and the one thing that has always made everything okay--the family--is torn apart.

No matter how bad things get, though, Deza still manages a couple of things: she sticks to and supports her mother, and she keeps reading.  Because Deza is one smart girl, who doesn't even let deeply prejudiced teachers keep her from learning and growing, she seems to be able to keep her chin up--and her head together.

Curtis has created a character whom the reader can root for all the way.  Deza has the faults that make her human, but we know she deserves better than fate is delivering, and Curtis makes us hope she will get it.  Curtis's writing is excellent--what I might call transparent, as in I am not aware of the mechanics of the story or the writing at all--only the story itself.  No faults, errors, or places I would think "I'd use this word instead."

My primary criticism of the story is that I felt it ended without any resolution.  Granted, life is like that, but even though the family is back in a home in Gary, they aren't truly together and it's not clear if they will be.  Also, nearly everyone else who has touched Deza's life has vanished.  Are they permanently gone?  I would think that Deza would have more and stronger reactions to the losses she suffers.  What she does seem to have is the detachment of a writer, even from her own life.

I give Christopher Paul Curtis, Deza Malone, and The Mighty Miss Malone,  four stars.

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