Freak the Mighty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Perhaps because one of the characters was based on a real individual, Freak the Mighty was like nothing I have ever read. Freak the Mighty features Max who struggles with reading and attends a special school and Kevin who loves to read the dictionary and suffers from a disease that makes him very short. The two form a quirky friendship and together they experience some hysterical and some harrowing adventures. Reading Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick was a great way to start my week!
What I appreciated most about Freak the Mighty is that the plot focuses on more than just disabilities. It’s about good guys, such as the grandparents of Max who are called Grim and Gram and who have built Max a room in their basement. There are also bad guys, such as Max’s dad who becomes eligible for parole about midway through Freak the Mighty. Last, Freak the Mighty is even about those individuals who aren’t completely good nor are all bad either, such as Iggy and Loretta who are key to Max’s survival when Max’s dad kidnaps him.
All these examples make for a tension-filled plot, but Freak the Mighty also contains some strong and memorable themes. For example, there’s the friendship between Max and Kevin. Together, they stand up to Tony D., who is seventeen, been to juvenile court four times, and once cut a guy with a razor. Freak the Mighty is also about facing fears. Kevin challenges Max to undertake a quest and to tackle dragons, symbolic ones that is such as hunting for treasure and then returning the purse they found to a lady in the slums. I appreciate the pro-reading message which is extolled through Kevin. He reads the dictionary, encyclopedias, novels, and says, “Books are like serum–if you don’t read, you can’t figure out what’s real.” At the same time, Kevin is a great testament to the power of imagination. I love the much-repeated advice that Kevin offers to Max whenever shares something new he had learned about in books: “You can remember anything whether it happen or not.” Never traveled back in time to the Ice Age or through space to the Moon? You can, if you follow Kevin’s advice. This advice helps Kevin, when he has to face his greatest battle, of accepting that his organs are outgrowing his body.
As you can see, there’s plenty to appreciate about Freak the Mighty. My one caution is be prepared to feel confused in the first chapter. I had to read the plot behind Freak the Mighty to understand what disabilities the two boys had. Also, you might find that Max’s way of talking as energized as those who drink lots of coffee. I also could have done without Max’s habit of interrupting action to address readers: “Are you paying attention here?’ Fortunately, all these problems start to feel miniscule as the novel progresses.
To conclude, let me turn to the whole reason I read Freak the Mighty. What does it tell me about learning disabilities? Max struggles to read and has to squint to tell the difference between letters such as ‘r’ and ‘e’. He often doesn’t understand words and concepts that Kevin throws at him such as “archetypes” and “quests”. When Max finally attends regular school, he feels “it’s like getting jabbed with a little needle”. Eventually though, books and other stuff starts to make sense–thanks to Kevin. Writing is still lost on Max, his hands feels “so huge and clumsy, it’s like the pencil is a piece of spaghetti or something and it keeps slipping away.” Yet eventually, again thanks to Kevin, Max decides to write down their story. He still thinks he doesn’t have a brain, but he keeps trying and remembering until he’s actually written a book. What a positive message!
I love that Max remains true. He started out feeling he didn’t have a brain. By the end, that part still hasn’t changed, but Max has also begun proving to everyone (including himself) that he can read and write and make something of his life. Along the way, readers have been treated to an entertaining story.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?