Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2012
"We are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful" is the motto of Deza Malone's family. Deza is the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, singled out by teachers for a special path in life. But the Great Depression hit Gary hard, and there are no jobs for black men. When her beloved father leaves to find work, Deza, Mother, and her older brother Jimmie go in search of him, and end up in a Hooverville outside Flint, Michigan. Jimmie's beautiful voice inspires him to leave the camp to be a performer, while Deza and Mother find a new home, and cling to the hope that they will find Father. The twists and turns of their story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone.
Sometimes I find it hard to get into books that take place in the past, but not this one. The main character, Deza, drew me in right from the very beginning. She is a kid that loves learning and writing, so I could easily relate to her.
The challenges she faced in the story were heart-breaking – losing a home, moving away from a best friend, family members going missing, having teeth so rotten your own parents can’t stand the smell. It was great that the story ended up with a happy ending, although I thought it wrapped up a little too neatly to be entirely believable. But I loved the whole sense of sticking with your family that is so important in this story.
This is a story where the parents are clearly an important part of the main character’s life, even when they aren’t always physically present, though Deza and her brother definitely work to solve their own problems.
As a writer, I found so much to admire about this novel, but what I’d study most closely is the voice. It’s strong and consistent, helping to give Deza a well-defined personality right from the start.
My favourite quotes:
“…some people have kindness and gentleness wrapped around them like a blanket and there’s no doubting who they are.”“Hoping is such hard work. It tires you out and you never seem to get any kind of reward. Hoping feels like you’re a balloon that has a pinhole that slowly leaks air.”
Christopher Paul Curtis was born and raised in Flint, Michigan and currently lives in Detroit. When he first began writing, he worked for General Motors at an auto assembly plant and hated it. Now he is a full-time writer.
According to the Afterword, Christopher Paul Curtis had something he wanted this book to accomplish, besides being an enjoyable read: “I hope that Deza can serve as a voice for the estimated fifteen million American children who are poor, who go to bed hungry and whose parents struggle to make a dignified living to feed and care for them.”
Some of his research for the book is based on a collection of letters sent to President Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
In an interview at All About Adolescent Literacy, he says: “A lot of things that I'm writing I know won't end up in the book. They don't seem to have anything to do with the story, but I've learned to just let them go, because it gives me some kind of background on what it is that I'm writing about.”
Other books by this author include:
Elijah of Buxton, 2009Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission, 2008
Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money, 2007Bucking the Sarge, 2006
Bud, Not Buddy, 1999The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963
For more, visit Christopher Paul Curtis’ website.
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