The Mighty Miss Malone

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Mighty Miss Malone Book Poster Image
Unforgettable 12-year-old girl battles the Great Depression.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Much about the Great Depression, from precarious employment, tent cities, and poorhouses to speakeasies, fancy cars, and shiny skyscrapers (not to mention baseball and boxing) will become vivid and memorable as experienced by Deza. Along with Deza's, the reader's critical thinking skills will get a workout as events progress; things aren't always what they seem, and they aren't always what the speaker believes, with the best intentions, to be true.

Positive Messages

"We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful" is the Malones' family motto, and however bad things get, Deza never wavers from her belief in her family and that statement. Her parents and brother strive constantly against great odds to keep the family together and safe.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Deza and her family members' love and loyalty to one another are compelling, each of them (including the irrepressible Jimmie, whose sense of truth and reality tends to be a bit fluid)  admirable in their own way. Their decisions wouldn't always be appropriate under more normal circumstances -- for example, when they're living in what we would now call a homeless encampment, Mrs. Malone and Deza are advised to lie when people ask where they're from -- but they're always driven by love for the family.


An important scene, told in retrospect by the traumatized survivor, involves the wreck of a fishing boat that killed all but one of the men aboard, and there's some mystery as to what exactly happened. There's also a fight scene in which Jimmie is beaten by the neighborhood bully, whom Deza then trounces. The public hysteria leading up to the first boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling plays a role in the early part of the book.


During  perilous times on the road, Deza and her mother are advised to be extra careful, as life in the camps is even more dangerous for women and girls. On a more comic side, it's a recurring  theme that females of all ages, from Deza's friend Clarice to the ladies of Detroit, are gaga over her sweet-voiced brother Jimmie.


Fancy Buicks and Burma-Shave signs are part of the local color. One vignette has to do with bugs infesting the Quaker Oatmeal.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some scenes take place in a speakeasy in Detroit, though none of the central characters imbibe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that positive messages abound in this tale of family tenacity in the Great Depression, but some of the misfortunes and hardships that befall the the Malone family are quite harrowing (e.g. losing their home, Mr. Malone's physical and mental deterioration) and may be troubling to more sensitive younger readers. The vivid snapshots of everyday life, main character Deza's exuberant, malapropism-laden love of language and learning, and the sudden dissonance of clashing worlds (say, the world of the Malones, and the world of the banker's family for whom Mrs. Malone cleans house) all add enjoyment, irony and interest to the story for thoughtful readers. There's' also an audiobook version narrated by Bahni Turpin.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 and 9-year-old Written byAsheville mom February 18, 2014

Excellent, but heavy subject matter

I read this book with our two daughters 7 and 9. It was a great springboard for enlightening discussions about prejudice and poverty during the Great Depression... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 13, 2014

So good, it made me cry (no joke)

This was one of the most moving books I've EVER read. It was so real and true (does that make sense?) that I bet that my mom would love it. I couldn't... Continue reading

What's the story?

In May 1936, 12-year-old Deza Malone may be poor, but she's living a fairly secure, happy life in Gary, Ind., as the brightest student in her class and the beloved child of doting parents. But the Great Depression hits the family hard, first driving her father away from town in search of work, then Deza, her brother, and her mother after him when he disappears. Trouble and hardship follow, in which not only poverty but also racial prejudice play a role -- as does the kindness of strangers.

Is it any good?

Deza is an unforgettable character whose perspective on historical events is by turns entertaining and provocative. Curtis' previous book, Bud, Not Buddy, in which young Deza makes an appearance, won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, among other honors, so THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE is in good company. As the story progresses, young readers will have frequent occasion to contemplate what it might have been like, for example, to be in constant pain because half their teeth were rotting away. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what you know about your own family members' experiences during the Great Depression. Were they similar to the Malones'. Have more recent bad times had a similar effect on people you know?

  • Mr. Malone tells his kids that being called "a credit to your race," while possibly mean as a compliment, is actually an insult that shows the speaker as ignorant and foolish. What are some other examples of "praise" that warn you to be extra careful of the speaker?

  • How does the lack of basic medical care affect the Malones? How might their lives be different today?

  • For the first time when she's in Flint, Deza understands why some kids hate school. What's different about this school and the one she used to attend? How do they compare to your school?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of African-Amercian experience

Themes & Topics

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