This is Deza Malone, age 12, of Gary, Indiana. She had a presence in Christopher Paul Curtis's 2000 Newbery Medal Winner Bud, Not Buddy. I honestly don't remember her character as it has been years since I read it, so while this is considered a companion to Bud, Not Buddy, I read it without influence of that book.
Deza excels at school. She has loving and supportive family (mom, dad, older brother who kept reminding me of Sammy Davis, Jr.) and a best friend. The story takes a drastic turn for the worse when Deza's father is involved in a suspicious boating accident and leaves Gary for Michigan to find work. This starts a chain of events that eventually find Deza and her mother fleeing a Michigan Hooverville camp.
There are some tough passages on poverty. Deza's family eating oatmeal that has bugs in it is one. Another striking passage comes when Deza meets two young boys just arrived in the camp with the goal trying to hop a train west so they can pick fruit. They came alone. No adults. If she is 12 and they are younger..? 11? 10? 9, my son's age? Cue heartbreak.
I still had my family, and like Mother always says, without a family you're nothing but dust on the wind.
I hoped he'd find kindness somewhere, but even with my exploding imagination, I couldn't figure out where that would be. (p. 204)
The author provides a lengthy afterward on boxer Joe Louis and poverty, mentioning that even today we have 15 million poor children in this country. Expect this one to pop up in award conversation as the year ends.
[on a personal note: The book takes place in Gary just before my father was born there. This summer we drove through it. I wish I would have read this before our trip. The book also mentions Jacksonville as part of music's Chitlin' Circuit.]