Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone

Love the cover. Wished I loved
(not just liked) the book...
First off, I love Christopher Paul Curtis. His stories make me laugh and very nearly cry. He can write the pants off just about anyone.

And if you ask any fifth or sixth grade boy if he knows Curtis’s books and the boy shrugs in that “I dunno” kind of way, just remind him of the Ticonderoga pencil scene in Bud, Not Buddy.

You will be rewarded with huge smiles, laughs, and flaring nostrils. I guarantee it.

That said, I liked The Mighty Miss Malone and wished I could truly love it. Malone is Curtis’s newest novel, focusing on Deza Malone, a character first seen in Bud, Not Buddy. Deza is full of energy, intelligence, and pluck. As her family navigates the horrors of the Great Depression, Deza simply demands that you root for her and follow her story to its end.

When I turned the last page, I was glad to have spent time with Deza, but I still had a question in mind. It’s the question my former writing teacher, Jane Resh Thomas, is famous for asking writers: “What is that character dying for want of?” What’s the main character’s “heart’s desire”?

I wasn’t sure I could put a finger on Deza’s heart’s desire. 

When I read the afterword, however, I was immediately sure of the author’s heart’s desire.

Curtis has felt deeply the parallels between stories of the Great Depression and news reports and personal stories he’s heard about today’s economic struggles. He is—as my writing teacher might say—dying for want of public acknowledgment that children are suffering in today’s Great Recession.

As Curtis says, “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.”

 It’s a point that needs to be made, that must be heard today. But I can’t help wishing Deza’s heart’s desire was as plain to me as that of her creator. Perhaps the best I can hope for, as an avid reader of Christopher Paul Curtis’s fiction, is that Deza will be back soon—and that Curtis will give us all a closer, deeper look into her heart.

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