Monday, June 4, 2012

Review - "The Mighty Miss Malone"

Returning to a previously lauded work, like returning to the scene of a crime, is not necessarily a good idea.  Just because something worked once, doesn’t mean it will work again.  See: nearly every Hollywood sequel.  But sometimes, if the right person gets in line with the right idea at the right time, it works.  The planets align, the stars twinkle, and you hold in your hands something that is almost as powerful and worthy as the original.  Such is the case with Christopher Paul Curtis and The Mighty Miss Malone.

Deza (that’s Deh-zah, not Dee-zah) Malone first appeared in Curtis’ Newbery Medal winning book, Bud Not Buddy.  She sauntered in, delivered a killer scene, and sauntered back out again.  This time, Deza is front and center of her own story.  Her family is living through the Great Depression just as well as they can manage.  Until one day, that is, when her alliterative father goes out for a fishing trip, and everyone’s life changes.  Deza faces the prospect of leaving her home town of Gary, Indiana, and all it offers her, for the unknown of Flint, Michigan and her missing father.  Her older brother Jimmie leaves the family to strike out on his own, leaving Deza and her mighty mother to struggle on without him.  Circumstances align themselves against her, but Deza Malone never gives up hope that her family will be together again.

I’ll say right off the bat, that this book isn’t perfect.  The praise heaped on Deza by her teacher is almost sickening it’s laid on so thick.  This is hard to take, as I have grown tired of precocious little girls who love words.  There is also a realization at the end that is too long in coming for such a smart girl.  But despite these road bumps, at the end of the day, I didn’t care.  I cared that I had just zoomed through a book I couldn’t put down, for fear that Deza would be busy living her life without me.  Her fire and spirit were contagious.  I found myself smiling for no good reason (for often, Deza has no good reason to smile, but does).  Curtis has a gift for characters, every one of them real and well-drawn, despite my misgivings about Deza in the beginning.  He made her so much more than a little girl who loved words.  And I will give Curtis credit for pulling off that elusive, unhappy happy ending.  A tricky thing to do, indeed.

So, is it as good as its forebear, Bud, Not Buddy?  I would say “close, but not quite.”  Time may temper my love of Deza and her family, but has done nothing to lessen my regard for Bud.  But honestly, if The Mighty Miss Malone is what happens when Curtis isn’t firing on all cylinders, then watch out folks for when he really is!

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
2012, Random House Children's Books
Library copy