The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul
Curtis; Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2012;
Usually I can tell whether I like a book or not within the first chapter. With this book, I could tell in the first sentence. When I read, “‘Once upon a time…’ If I could get away with it, that’s how I’d begin every essay I write,” I knew I would love it. As I kept reading, I proved myself right.
Deza Malone is a twelve-year-old girl who has “the heart of a champion… [and is] steady as a rock.” Her story brought the Great Depression and the particular hardships for African-Americans more to life than any American Girl doll book I’ve ever read. Though it reminded me in subject of the American Girl series, I thought it was much better. I think I might have a new favorite book, and a new friend: Deza.
She was so real, I looked carefully to see if it was based on a true story. Sadly, I found it wasn’t. Then again, considering what Deza goes through, I was happy to find the story did not actually happen. The one thing I want in all my books is that sense of reality, and this book brought it.
Deza Malone starts out as a smart schoolgirl and goes from that to being practically homeless. Her father is injured, her brother runs away, and she has nowhere to live but a hobo camp. There, even the hobo people are prejudiced against her because of her race. At the end of the book, Deza’s torn family is scraped back together again, but nothing is the same.
Although she doesn’t get her old life back, her story still feels complete. It doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending, nor is it a Shakespearean tragedy. It suggests both a sequel and a continued life for Deza. It says that her story doesn’t stop there. I sat there for several minutes after I finished, thinking about what might be in store for Deza.
One part of the book I really liked was when Deza was talking about her family. They sounded like people I would love to hang out with. They all have these quirks and special qualities, just like real people. For example, Deza’s dad loves to speak using alliteration. Though it can be annoying for Deza it is also a very endearing characteristic.
Another part of the book I can’t stop replaying in my head is when Deza first sees her father again. He is stitched up, bloody, and bruised. I expected Deza to play the typical good heroine and immediately welcome him. I thought Deza would open her arms for her daddy, not caring about his appearance. Deza didn’t do that. In fact, she didn’t even recognize him at first. When she did, Deza was upset, unforgiving, and—real. It was so sad and pathetic and it made me ache to see her act the way she did. But I also found it really authentic and touching. It was unexpected but made sense.
The main thing that I think matters in a good book is whether or not it keeps you wanting more. If it is all action scenes, it gets overwhelming. If the whole book is meaningless description, it is not engaging at all. But this book was right in the middle. The descriptions gave you needed information, and the action was suspenseful and varied. And it all had a little pinch of humor.
This book is pretty close to perfect. After reading it, I realized I still was thinking and talking like Deza! Southern twang, hobo slang, and all. I will be telling all my friends about this book, and I am sure they will love it too.