I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Mister Max #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on September 10, 2013
Genres: Middle Grade
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Max Starling's theatrical father likes to say that at twelve a boy is independent. He also likes to boast (about his acting skills, his wife's acting skills, a fortune only his family knows is metaphorical), but more than anything he likes to have adventures. Max Starling's equally theatrical mother is not a boaster but she enjoys a good adventure as much as her husband. When these two disappear, what can sort-of-theatrical Max and his not-at-all theatrical grandmother do? They have to wait to find out something, anything, and to worry, and, in Max's case, to figure out how to earn a living at the same time as he maintains his independence. This is the first of three books, all featuring the mysterious Mister Max.
At first blush it’s hard to decide on what the point of this story was. Max’s parents have vanished, leaving Max behind to take care of himself. He tries to live with his Granny for a while, but that doesn’t work out for him, so he decides to go back home. The only problem is that without his parents, and his Granny not making much money, Max needs to find a way to make some money. Day after day, Max goes out looking for a job. One day he stumbles across a lost boy and helps the boy find his mother. This is where things start to change for Max. The mother pays him, and then business starts getting sent his way. Max begins a career as a finder of lost things, and the bulk of this book turns into Max’s assorted cases.
What this book is really about, though, is not the cases or the money per se. Instead, it’s about Max learning to fend for himself, to find his independence and to start to learn who he is. After all, Max is the kind of guy who just blends, and he uses this to his own advantage by taking on a variety of personas he’s learned from growing up around the stage. Max makes new friends, learns to manage his money, and still works on his schooling in order to not fall behind. Side characters were entertaining, and well-developed, are difficult to find in a book written for an adult, let alone one intended for a middle grade audience. Not only that but unlike most MG books, the adults in this book weren’t irresponsible (okay, so maybe his parents aren’t the best, but since their leaving is essential to the plot we can let that slide). Max’s Gran and his tutors are all well-rounded and concerned about Max’s well-being.
Because I was reading an ARC as opposed to a finished copy of this book not all the artwork was completed, but what there was is captivating, and fits in with the Victorian theme of the book well. I did think the language used was a little higher than what I would expect to find in a book for this audience, but it was extremely well-written so even if the kids don’t quite understand what it is that the word means they can still make that educated guess. There isn’t too much action or adventure in this book, but I can hope that the sequels to this will have a bit more action now that we’ve established why Max is doing the things that he does. Either way, this was an enjoyable book. I would recommend it for the older MG audience because of the vocabulary, or for reading along with an adult so the adult can explain the different words.