Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Freak the Mighty by W.R. Philbrick

Freak is Kevin, a small, gifted boy with a birth defect that crippled him. Maxwell is a giant of a boy who is not particularly bright. Together, they make a striking pair of friends who dub themselves “Freak the Mighty.”

Neither really had a friend until Freak moves into Max’s neighborhood. Freak gains freedom of movement by riding on Max’s shoulders, and Max claims that Freak gives him a brain. This may be true, but Freak did not give Maxwell a heart. Max’s size and slow ways mask the heart of a gentle giant and true friend.

Now, the most memorable death of all book characters to me, remains Old Dan’s and Little Ann’s in Where the Red Fern Grows. The death of Freak runs a close second. It’s not just because you get so attached to his character but because you get as attached to Maxwell whom he leaves behind. Just as the boy in Red Fern will never hunt the same way again, the twosome that made Freak the Mighty can never hunt treasure, slay dragons, or beat gangs again. It’s a keen, sharp loss. And a wonderful read.

Remember that as I list all potential problems in a book, it sounds worse than reading it in context… Maxwell is fond of saying “but_head. Oh my Go_ is used several times. Freak refers to his ex-neighbors as “drug-fiends.” Also, on the 4th of July, Maxwell makes reference to all the drunk dads celebrating.

There is a climatic section of the book when Maxwell is kidnapped by his father after his father is paroled. Maxwell and his father are helped by another woman and man. When the woman tries to come to Max’s aid, the father gets angry and starts choking her. Max flashes back to when he was 4 and remembers his father strangling his mother. He yells at his father who turns on him and starts to choke him. At this point, Freak rescues Max in a most melodramatic moment. None of this is ever bloody or grotesque, but it’s intense. It makes for riveting reading, just be aware the topic may veer too close to adult material for your tween. For sheer readability, I’d give the book 3 Flags.

Safety Rating: 2 Vatican Flags; High Readability


Anonymous,  June 19, 2010 at 9:17 AM  

I am a teacher and read this outloud and just like you said, the topics sound worse than they really are in the book. I did have one parent complain but in the end I learned the family had some abuse type issues going on so it hit a nerve. It is by far the best book I have read to kids but recommend it for 10 years at leasto or older.

Tween Lit Crit June 20, 2010 at 10:32 AM  

Thanks for the feedback. That's good advice. You just can't create the actual context in a brief review. This is a book worthwhile for parents to read in order to judge for themselves.

Ann April 5, 2011 at 12:10 PM  

I saw the movie, The Mighty, years ago on a night when I was up with a sick baby. I loved the movie, one of those stories that stays with you for a long time. Now I have just found out that there was a book. I cannot wait to read the book and share it with my teen (the formerly sick baby). Thanks so much for your website.

Tween Lit Crit April 5, 2011 at 6:55 PM  

You're so welcome... We thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the movie. I hated to give it 1 Flag, but didn't want any parents taken by surprise about the dad... I'll bet most who read it will like it for their tweens. The movie retained the pull the book had, too. My teen just re-read it, and we re-ordered the movie... Enjoy!

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