Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
published January 2012 by Random House Children's
320 pages (hardcover), Middle Grade

In 1930s Gary, Indiana is where you'll find Deza Malone, a smart and sassy young gal. Nicknamed the Mighty Miss Malone by her alliteration-obsessed father, Deza (pronounced like the beginning of "desert") is just named the top student in her class at the end of the year and is propositioned by her retiring teacher to stay on as a tutee in the upcoming school year. Deza is thrilled at the prospect (as long as her best friend can come too) since she absolutely adores her teacher and also aspires to become a teacher when she grows up. Unfortunately, this doesn't come to pass as Deza's father has been out of work for some time, was in a boating accident, and has now left the family to find work in Flint, Michigan. It's the Great Depression, for sure, and Deza's family is struggling to stay together. After her mother receives notice that she will no longer be needed as a housekeeper for a well-off white family (they're going to travel abroad to escape the Depression, hah!), she decides to take Deza and her older brother Jimmie to Flint too. But they haven't heard from their father lately, and they don't have a reliable way to get there or people to stay with when they do. So, they take it one day at a time and hope for the best.

I don't read a whole lot of historical fiction, but besides the boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, this could have been contemporary realistic fiction. We are in our own Depression, and I know students who could certainly relate to the events in this book - their dads living in other cities looking for a steady paycheck, families being torn apart just to make ends meet. But what I love about this book and what makes me want to hand it to each and every one of those kids is the cohesive, tightly-wound family unit. The Malones have a motto - "We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful." The parents are kind, encouraging, and wise in the lessons they teach their children. When Deza comes back from the library one day, she asks her parents what it means to be "a credit to your race," as the librarian called her (yes, it hurts me so), and her father so eloquently describes it as a warning growl, letting you know exactly who that person is (and that they are most certainly not on your side). Life lessons are expertly handled with care in this story.

I should also mention that this is no surprise coming from Christopher Paul Curtis. I like to stagger my reading of his books because I just don't think it's fair to all the other books out there (like Phoebe and her oatmeal raisin cookies - Friends reference). His writing is so skillful - how else do I describe it? Luscious? Thoughtful? Masterful? Ooh, some touchy-feely words, I know. But it's just such a pleasure to read. When I hand this book to students, I will cross my fingers that they'll like it, and if they don't, I'll just chalk it up to inexperience. They will someday.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

February Reading Recap

I traveled a ton in February, so most of my reading was done in airports and cars. More travels to come in March, so I hope to get tons knocked off my ever-growing to-read list...

Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich, read by Lorelei King (2004) --- I love the Stephanie Plum audiobooks. I started reading this series in grad school for an Adult Pop Lit class, and I got hooked. It's my guilty pleasure, and I usually read 1-2 a year (otherwise they get too repetitive). This one was the most dangerous yet, I think. Stephanie manages to tick off a high-profile gang member and now there is a hit on her. Of course she survives, but it gets pretty intense! As always, Lula and Grandma Mazur (and Stephanie's lack of common sense) provide for some comic relief. And Stephanie's love life is a mess - this one's for Ranger fans.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (2012 debut) --- A science fiction Cinderella story?! Oh, how I love thee! Cinder is a delightful little cyborg living in New Beijing with her stepmother and stepsisters. She's a talented mechanic who's hired by Prince Kai himself to fix his personal android. All the while, a plague is spreading through the city, and medical testing for a cure now includes willing cyborgs - since they're not considered fully human. There's a lot going on in this story, but it's so NEW and FRESH and just lovely. Even if you're not a fan of science fiction, if you like a good fairy tale retelling, check this one out. But I suspect many of you already have. Although I think this could have been a standalone novel, I can't wait to read more in the series!

Yummy: The Last Days of Southside Shorty by G. Neri (2010) --- From Goodreads:
In August of 1994, 11-year-old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer [...] fired a gun at a group of rival gangmembers, accidentally killing a neighborhood girl, Shavon Dean. [...] The story made such an impact that Yummy appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, drawing national attention to the problems of inner city youth in America. 
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty relives the confusion of these traumatic days from the point of view of Roger, a neighborhood boy who struggles to understand the senseless violence swirling through the streets around him. Awakened by the tragedy, Roger seeks out answers to difficult questions — was Yummy a killer or a victim? Was he responsible for his actions or are others to blame?

The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker (2012 debut) --- I don't read a whole lot of contemporary realistic fiction, but the cover and title of this one reeled me in. Though I've never lived in Kentucky, my best friend is from there, so I felt like Whitaker's description of this small, southern town was just right. I suppose it helps that she's from there too. The story is about a girl who is just starting public high school after going to a private school for her elementary days. She doesn't want to be seen as a country bumpkin, so she changes her style and joins the cheerleading squad - she just wants to fit in, and most of all, be popular. Yes, it's one of those stories. And I enjoyed it just fine. It's nice to see a change of scenery in this book - I've certainly grown tired of the Upper East Side trend. And the main character has spunk and a real personality that I grew to like, even if I didn't appreciate her decision-making skills.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler (2011) --- Gosh, I wanted to like this book so much. It had such a great premise! Imagine the year is 1996, you've just logged onto AOL for the first time, and a window pops up that says it's Facebook. It has your name, your birthday, a picture of someone who could be you in 15 years, and a bunch of personal postings about what you're having for dinner or how your marriage is failing. Fantastic idea, right? Except that the main characters, Josh and Emma, are absolutely annoying - Emma, especially. All she cares about is who she's going to marry in 15 years. Really... really?! If you found a portal to the future, is that honestly the only thing you want to know? I like that all of their decisions affected their Facebook status and altered the future - I just wish it didn't all revolve around the husband issue. Teens think about WAY more than that, my goodness.

The Limit by Kristen Landon (2010) --- Hmm, quite a lot of science fiction this month. I was excited about this book because it's a dystopia that my 5th graders would enjoy, and I haven't seen too many of these for younger MG readers. In this book, families are not allowed to accrue any debt, and if they do, their teenagers may be whisked away to work off the debt. Matt's mother accidentally goes slightly over their limit one day while grocery shopping with the kids, and as soon as they get home, there are people ready to take Matt away to the government facility where he will work. Matt's a smart kid, so he gets a high-paying job on the top floor of this building, but he starts to notice that something is not quite right about this place...

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