Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (YA Fiction)

Freak the Mighty

Rodman Philbrick (YA Fiction)

They were known as Freak and Kicker. Kevin Avery and Maxwell Kane had known each other since daycare and you’d think that given Kevin’s abnormal smallness, he would have been a pretty kickable target for Kicker. But maybe it was Kevin’s crutches or perhaps it was the shiny braces holding up his crooked legs. Whatever it was, he quickly captured Maxwell’s imagination…and possibly even his respect. When Kevin suddenly re-enters Maxwell’s life during the summer before eighth grade, the two form an unlikely friendship. Separately, they are Midget and Butthead, but together they’re Freak the Mighty and soon everyone would realize that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

Rodman Philbrick warms your heart and then breaks it with this story of friendship, acceptance, and courage. Told from Maxwell’s point of view, Freak the Mighty shows us how two fractured halves come together to form one implausibly wonderful whole. Kevin is the yin to Maxwell’s yang and they prove that opposites not only attract, but they bond and strengthen. Through Kevin, Maxwell begins to realize his academic potential and starts to free himself from past ties that hold him back. In turn, Maxwell gives Kevin the ability to look for castles, hunt for buried treasure, help damsels in distress, and realize his dream of having a seat at the roundtable.

There seems to be a lot of disparity online regarding the appropriate reader age for this book. Freak the Mighty is recommended for sixth graders and up—although some websites suggest a reader age as young as ten. While it is an easy and fast read—which would clearly appeal to younger readers—there are many instances of violence and disturbing behavior throughout the book, not to mention that Maxwell’s father is far from Father-of-the-Year material. And while the themes of anti-bullying and pro-acceptance are important, there are more age-appropriate options available for younger readers (R. J. Palacio’s Wonder is just one example). All in all, I really loved this story, but it fell just a little short of completely winning me over. With the two main characters being such polar opposites, I feel the story could have benefitted from having alternating narrators—switching between Maxwell and Kevin. Having the opportunity to learn more about Kevin and being able to see the world through his eyes would have added another layer of depth and emotion to this story. Having Mighty without the Freak seems like a sadly missed opportunity.

They say that a friend is someone who looks beyond your broken fence and instead admires the flowers in your garden. Maxwell and Kevin certainly exemplify this through their quirky and unlikely friendship and demonstrate how brains and brawn are not competitors, but rather a wonderful symbiosis. Maxwell gave Kevin legs and Kevin gave Maxwell heart—their own mental and physical challenges replaced by adventure, possibility, and hope. Rare is the friendship that not only opens the door to life’s opportunities, but also lifts you up so that you won’t miss them when they finally arrive.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne (J)

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket     

John Boyne (Juvenile Fiction)

“This is the story of Barnaby Brocket, and to understand Barnaby, first you have to understand his parents: two people who were so afraid of anyone who was different that they did a terrible thing that would have the most appalling consequences for everyone they loved.”

The Brocket family was undeniably THE most normal family in all of New South Wales, perhaps even in the whole of Australia.  That was until their third child was born.  You see, Barnaby…how to put this delicately…well, Barnaby floats and this put the Brockets in a very undesirable predicament since having a floating child is simply not normal.  Not normal at all.

Told in the vein of Lemony Snicket, John Boyne delights readers with a tale that mixes awfulness, meanness, and absolute horridness with kindness, goodness, and pinches of pleasantness.  The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket is a story about fitting in, finding your place, and accepting the person that you are supposed to be rather than the person that you are expected to be.  I never tire of books that reaffirm the belief that it is our differences that make us special and just because someone stands out shouldn’t mean that they stand alone.

Throughout his adventures, Barnaby meets coffee farmers, a window cleaner, a gallery owner, and an art critic, and he travels to Brazil, New York, Toronto, and Iceland.  Along the way, he comes to realize that the terrible thing that has happened to him may not be so terrible after all.  Besides, what’s so great about keeping your feet on the ground anyway?  Because if you do, how will you ever touch the stars?

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com