I like to think of myself as an open-minded reader. When I say this, I mean that I am happy to read authors and texts from a variety of genres. If I find that I dislike a particular piece of writing, I try not to discount works from the same time period, author, or genre. I have recently given myself the opportunity to become a more reflective reader by writing book reviews. Since I began my reviews, I have thought much more about the literary techniques the best authors use which I find appealing as a reader. Among these are descriptive language, character development, symbolism and many more. When I consider the fact that my favorite aspects of writing are its intricacies and challenges, I am not surprised that I had a bit of trouble recalling the child-like state of mind necessary to read Freak the Mighty. What I did not realize was that some qualities which combine to create the YA genre; the broken down plot, young adult protagonist(perhaps leading to alternative perspective) may be difficult for a reader of more complex fiction to adjust to.
The story of Max and Kevin’s friendship is without a doubt touching and beautiful. Philbrick sends a much needed message about both adults and children with his portrayal of the treatment of people based on appearance as opposed to valuable inner qualities they possess. The idea that Kevin is extremely intelligent and able to stand up for himself verbally despite his crippling illness (Morquio Syndrome) allows younger readers to understand that even the most difficult of burdens may be overcome if you set your mind to it. It inspires hope in readers of any age to learn about a tiny little boy with problems of his own forgetting about himself and literally becoming one with the ‘big dumb’ kid next door to form an entity they are both comfortable with and even proud of: Freak the Mighty. With Kevin riding around on Max’s large shoulders so his two foot body may maneuver, poor Max finally feels as though he has a functioning brain.
My biggest issue in reading Freak the Mighty came with the simplified prose, plot line, and even narration. I soon came to realize that the voice of the narrator was Max and that he depicted himself throughout the book as ‘slow, retarded’ and labeled as learning disabled since he had been regarded as such by his own family, kids, and teachers at school. The more I tried to analyze the text as I would any other novel, I wondered if Philbrick intentionally simplified the narration for younger readers or if he had meant to show that Max, who is later revealed to not actually have a learning disability, as having been stunted by years of people telling him he was stupid through this ‘confused’ perspective. Has Max’s level of intelligence become a self-fulfilling prophesy after years of emotional abuse? Or is the book just broken down for younger readers?
If I consider most works of fiction long enough, I am able to find plenty of reasons for liking a novel. In the case of Freak the Mighty, the characters, of course, pull at the heart strings. No little boys deserve the cards Kevin and Max are been dealt –in all the action packed into a small book it is still realistic. The author’s decision to make Kevin extremely insightful to the point of crafting an alternate scenario in his imagination for his body to become a robot is fitting and very sad. Yet, I somehow viewed Max’s situation as more hopeless. Max looks exactly like his father who is in prison for the murder of his mother. People always mention this and are afraid of him. Max is big and quiet because of his past which is mistaken for stupidity.
Through their friendship, the boys find a missing piece of themselves, the other half of Freak the Mighty. Throughout the book, as Kevin helped Max with his many issues, I asked myself: How is Max helping Kevin? This answer was that he was his friend. Also Kevin, with his creativity and imagination, was able to help himself much more than Max could. Max writing the story of their friendship was finally something he could do for Kevin after his death, it was another way Max for to find himself. For the first time he did it without Kevin’s help.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
Film (1998) The Mighty
Read: the sequel, Max the Mighty