Gr 4-7There ought to be a law against churning out thoughtless sequels to great books. Max, introduced in Freak the Mighty (Scholastic, 1993), reluctantly runs away with Worm, the 11-year-old stepdaughter of a delusional and abusive street character he calls "the Undertaker." Hitchhiking west in search of Worm's real father, thought to be living in Chivalry, Montana, they are picked up by a widowed ex-teacher called "Hippy-Dippy," who is traveling in a `70s-style, reconditioned school bus. Their ride is interrupted by a chance meeting with an unsavory pair of con artists who recognize Max as the young teen kidnapper for whom a $10,000 bounty is being offered; the youngsters then take off and continue their journey by hopping trains. With "the Undertaker" in hot pursuit, they make it to their destination, a ghost town haunted by a catastrophic mine cave-in. There, the police, the Undertaker, Hippy-Dippy, and Max's grandfather are waiting for them. Enormous caverns of logic exist with the most obvious ones jumping out: where could the Undertaker come up with $10,000 reward money, who would take him seriously, wouldn't his checkered past spring to fluorescent light, and why would he seriously pursue this child in the first place? The emotional centerthe gripping relationship between Max and Freakis sorely missing here; readers are unlikely to connect with any of the cartoonlike characters assembled. The Hollywood ending is also lacking any semblance of credibility. Instead of this title, purchase an additional copy of the first book.Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO
Maxwell Kane, the guileless, oversized hero of Freak the Mighty (rev. 1/94), returns in this sequel, a little smarter and no less courageous than when we first met him. Now fourteen, Max comes to the rescue of a younger girl, Worm (short for Bookworm), who is in imminent danger of being abused by her creepy stepfather. Impulsively, Max kidnaps her, and the two set out to find her real father on a journey that leads them across the country to Chivalry, Montana. Philbrick uses Arthurian imagery, much as he did in the earlier novel, to underscore the theme. "It's all about fighting for honor and protecting the innocent and never giving up even if the whole world is against you," Worm says, describing a book she's reading about the knights of the round table. The world does seem to bear them a grudge: they are attacked by wild dogs and betrayed by a couple of con artists during their travels. But they find friends, too, who offer them food and shelter and usher them to their final destination. The characters and plot sometimes threaten to stretch the reader's sense of reality to its limits. Worm's villainous stepfather-"a street crazy with a mean streak"-for example, dresses in black, is called the Undertaker, and drives a rusty old hearse. And except for the two protagonists, the characters seem more colorful than fully fleshed out. But the two who matter the most grab your attention and engage your heart. A poignant figure, Worm is less outlandish than Max, and her surprising revelations at the end about her father have a logical consistency to them. When it's all over and Max is vindicated, his insistence that the "unvanquished truth" is that he will never be normal holds unexpected layers of meaning.
In this sequel to Freak the Mighty (1993), Max, the freakishly gigantic child, comes to the rescue of Rachel, called Worm because of her devotion to books. When he takes her away from her abusive stepfather, the Undertaker, Max is accused of kidnapping, and the two embark on a cross-country odyssey to find her real father. Pursued by police and the vengeful Undertaker, they make their way to Montana, where Worm's father was killed years before in a mine disaster and where they face a final confrontation with the Undertaker in the depths of the mine. While the book is populated by stock characters from central casting (an aging hippie in a '60s-style bus, a train-hopping hobo with a heart of gold, a pair of charming con artists, and, of course, the evil Undertaker), Philbrick avoids making it into a cartoon. The story moves along at a good clip, the friendship between Max and Worm is warm, and the other characters give the proceedings a touch of melodrama. Despite Max's certainty that happy endings don't happen, everything is tied up satisfyingly at the end. (Fiction. 10-14)