From the Publisher
Publisher's Weekly Best Children's Book of 2012
Kirkus Reviews Best Teen's Book of 2012
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2011:
“Deza is one great heroine in her own right, a fitting literary companion to Bud Caldwell.”
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, December 12, 2011:
“Though the resolution of the family’s crisis is perhaps far-fetched, some readers will feel they are due a bit of happiness; others will be struck by how little has changed in 75 years for the nation’s have-nots.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
The Malone family is a loving, caring family that vows to stick together and travel to a place called Wonderful. Yet, the Great Depression is making that difficult, especially for a black family in Gary, Indiana, in 1936. Twelveyear-old Deza and her fifteen-year-old brother Jimmie attend school where many teachers are prejudiced. Jimmie has an angelic singing voice but is often bullied because of his small stature. Mr. Malone has been out of work for months and the family barely survives on the poor quality food they manage to find. In spite of the problems, optimism reigns in the Malone household until the day Mr. Malone disappears in a fishing accident on Lake Michigan. Life is never the same. Although he is found weeks later, he is a changed man unable to even look for work. Deza's life spirals out of control as the family is forced to leave Gary and travel to Flint, Michigan where they must live in a shantytown for months. In this novel, Curtis presents a heartbreaking story of the lives of regular black families during the Great Depression. Even with the sadness, Deza's determination to keep her family together presents an inspiring story. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
Even ardent fans of Curtis’s Newbery winner, Bud, Not Buddy, may not remember Deza Malone, who shares dishwashing duties with Bud Caldwell during his brief stay at a Hooverville in Flint, Mich. Responding to readers’ pleas that he write a book with a female main character, Curtis traces the path that led Deza’s family to homelessness. It’s 1936 in Gary, Ind., and the Great Depression has put 12-year-old Deza’s father out of work. After a near-death experience trying to catch fish for dinner, Roscoe Malone leaves for Flint, hoping he’ll find work. But Deza’s mother loses her job shortly after, putting all the Malones out on the street. As in his previous books, Curtis threads important bits of African-American history throughout the narrative, using the Joe Louis–Max Schmeling fight to expose the racism prevalent even among people like the librarian who tells Deza that Louis is “such a credit to your race.” Though the resolution of the family’s crisis is perhaps far-fetched, some readers will feel they are due a bit of happiness; others will be struck by how little has changed in 75 years for the nation’s have-nots. Ages 10–14. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Pat Trattles
Twelve-year-old Deza Malone lives in Gary, Indiana during the height of the Great Depression. She is by far the smartest student in her class and takes great pride in that fact. Deza lives with her mother and father and older brother, Jimmie, who has a knack for getting into mischief, and although he has a bit of the devil in him, sings like an angel. Life is tough for the Malone family. Mr. Malone cannot find work and the little money Mrs. Malone can bring home working as a housekeeper for a rich white family is barely enough to make ends meet. Still, Deza is optimistic and full of hope; embracing the Malone family motto, "We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful." Then Mr. Malone leaves home to try to find work in Flint, Michigan. When he fails to keep in touch with them, Deza, Jimmie and their mother set out to find him. Crammed into a crowded boxcar they head north where they are forced to live in a makeshift hut in a camp on the outskirts of Flint, Michigan. Life in Flint is tougher than it was in Gary and the Malone family faces many challenges, racially as well as financially as they try to bring the family back together again. Although Curtis has not skimped in presenting the hardships of the Depression in heart-wrenching detail, he also has created a heroine in Deza who is plucky, at times comical, and always resilient when facing even the harshest realities of her meager existence. An absorbing read with a strong sense of history and place and outstanding characterization, Deza's story is a must read for today's young readers and is sure to be another award winner for its author. Reviewer: Pat Trattles
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—In 1936 Gary, IN, 12-year-old Deza Malone is an outstanding student and beloved daughter in an African American family challenged by economic hardship. Her mother's job as a domestic allows them to just get by, but leaves them unable to address Deza's rotting teeth and older brother Jimmie's stunted growth. When her father seeks work in Michigan and fails to keep in touch with them, Mother packs them up to go and find him. Their journey takes them to a Hooverville camp where Jimmie's beautiful singing voice is discovered by an itinerant musician who convinces him to strike out on his own. Mother and Deza try to make a life for themselves in Flint but are discouraged by poverty and discrimination and their inability to find Father. When Deza hears that Jimmie is making it big in Detroit, she sets out to find him, starting a chain of events that lead to a hopeful yet heartbreaking conclusion. The strength of this companion to Bud, Not Buddy (Delacorte, 1999) is its vivid characterization and clear sense of place and time. Deza is an appealing, indomitable heroine whose narrative voice reflects both wit and pathos. Period details are skillfully woven into the story with the Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling fight playing an important role in underscoring the sense of defeat for African Americans as they struggle with the Depression. Careful readers may be mystified by the discrepancies between Buddy's account of meeting Deza and Deza's, and they might wish for a more comforting resolution, but Curtis does not sugarcoat reality and focuses instead on the resilience of a memorable character. An absorbing read.—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
Deza Malone had a brief appearance in Curtis' multiple–award-winning novel, Bud, Not Buddy (Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award, 2000). Now, she is the dynamic and engaging heroine of her own story. Deza takes great pride in being the best student in school and the champion of her musically gifted but challenged older brother. Although the Malones are barely surviving the Depression in Gary, Ind., Deza has a strong sense of self and hope for a better life. As she writes in her school essay, "We are the only family in the world, in my ken, that has a motto of our own! That motto is ‘We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.' I can't wait until we get there!" Despite severe economic and racial restrictions, the strength of their familial bond remains strong, but even that connection is sorely tested when Mr. Malone returns to his hometown of Flint, Mich., seeking work. Deza, her brother Jimmie and their mother set out to find him as their situation becomes dire. With his distinctive style of storytelling that seamlessly presents the hardships and finds the humor in tough circumstances, Curtis forges the link between characters and readers. The fluidity of the writing, the strong sense of place and time combined with well-drawn characters will captivate and delight. Deza is one great heroine in her own right, a fitting literary companion to Bud Caldwell. (Historical fiction. 9-12)
Read an Excerpt
Journey to Wonderful
“Once upon a time . . .”
If I could get away with it, that’s how I’d begin every essay I write.
Those are the four best words to use when you start telling about yourself because anything that begins that way always, always finishes with another four words, “. . . they lived happily everafter.”
And that’s a good ending for any story.
I shut my dictionary and thesaurus and went back over my essay for the last time.
The best teacher in the world, Mrs. Karen Needham, had given us a assignment to write about our families. I knew, just like always, she was going to love mine. She’d only asked for two pages but this was our last essay for the year, so I wrote six.
Once upon a time . . . in Gary, Indiana, lived a family of three very special, very happy and uniquely talented people. I am the fourth member of that family and much too modest to include myself in such a grandiose description of their exalted number. But many people say I am of the same ilk and for that I remain internally grateful.
My mother, Mrs. Margaret “Peggy” Sutphen Malone, was born here in Gary, Indiana. She is willowy and radiant and spell-blindingly beautiful. She is also very intelligent. She has a great job cleaning for the Carsdale family. Yes, that Carsdale family! The family whose patriarch is the president of the Gary Citizens’ Bank.
Her most endearing trait is that she is the glue holding this family together.
I jumped and my pencil flew out of my hand.
When I’m writing or reading a book, everything else around me disappears. Father says it’s because I’ve settled into what I’m doing, the same way my brother Jimmie does when he’s singing.
“Jimmie! I told you not to sneak up on me like that when I’m writing!”
He handed me the pencil. “I couldn’t help it, sis, you were so far gone. What’re you writing?”
“My last essay for Mrs. Needham.”
“You know, a lot of people are saying her not coming back to teach is the best thing that ever happened at Lincoln Woods School.”
“James Malone, if I ever give one-half a hoot what a lot of people are saying, you have my permission to slap me silly. Mrs. Needham is the best teacher in the world. Now, if you don’t mind. I never bother you when you’re singing, don’t bother me when I’m writing.”
“But lots of people love listening to me sing, Deza, seems to me like only you, that little pest Clarice Anne Johnson and Mrs. Needham like reading what you write.”
Jimmie is one of those people who can say something that might sound mean at first, but when he smiles and makes his eyebrows jump up and down you can’t help smiling. He gets this deep, deep dimple in his right cheek and you end up laughing right along with him.
My dearest friend, Clarice Anne Johnson, has a horrible and completely un-understandable crush on Jimmie. She says she bets you could pour cornflakes in his dimple and eat them out with a spoon.
I’m hoping Clarice’s taste in boys improves as she gets older.
“Sorry, sis. I’m heading out, can I do anything for you before I split?”
“No, thanks. Just make sure you’re back for supper.”
I looked at Mrs. Needham’s instructions again. “What is the most annoying trait of some of your family members?”
That was easy to come up with for Father and Jimmie, but I couldn’t think of a single annoying trait for Mother. I wrote:
Mother’s pet peeve is that she hates the way a lot of people are mean to Jimmie for no reason.
Her dreams are to see Father get a job where he doesn’t always get laid off, for Jimmie to start growing again and be happy and to watch me graduate from college and be a teacher.
My father, Mr. Roscoe Malone, was born in a village in Michigan called Flint, which is geologically located 250 miles northeast of Gary. For some reason that none of us can understand he is very proud of this. He is tall and strikingly handsome, he’s also intelligent and well-read.
He toils and labors mostly for the Company doing work in a horribly hot furnace and sometimes being a janitor.
His most annoying trait is the way he uses alliteration every chance he has.
I looked up from my paper. That is so true, but I wondered for a minute if I should put it in the essay. It isn’t like he can help himself.
He always calls me his Darling Daughter Deza, and I’m supposed to answer that he is my Dearest Delightful Daddy. He calls Jimmie the Genuine, Gentle Jumpin’ Giant, and Jimmie’s supposed to call him his Fine Friendly Father Figure. Father also calls Mother the Marvelous Mammalian Matriarch, but she says she won’t respond because she refuses to play silly word games with such a “hardheaded husband who hasn’t heard how horrible he is.”
Mother told me, “Such nonsense is in the blood of the Malones and you should be happy that so far it looks like you haven’t inherited any of it.”
She says Jimmie is a different story.
I tapped the pencil on my teeth. I know it’s rude and disloyal to discuss family business with other people, but Mrs. Needham says good writing is always about telling the truth.