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