NOTE: I would say this is a more of an in depth analysis of the book than a book review, per say. I suggest that if you haven't read Freak the Mighty By Rodman Philbrick, that you should get off this website and read it now! My review does contain spoilers - I would suggest you read it only to understand more AFTER you have read the book.
In the inspiring novel, Freak the Mighty, Rodman Philbrick tells the story of two boys that face many difficult problems-- one who has no belief in himself, and the other who is severely handicapped. The two briefly meet each other in daycare, and then one of them, Kevin (commonly known as Freak) abruptly moves away. Max doesn’t ever expect to see the short, smart, blonde boy with fierce eyes ever again, until Freak moves back next door, the summer before eighth grade. The two become fast friends, riding dragons and going on adventures and facing their extraordinarily difficult lives together. As the story progresses, Max grows from being a boy with a low self esteem, to a person who is not afraid to express himself and enjoy life. As the story unfolds, Max learns numerous lessons. Freak taught Max that “Remembering is an invention of the mind” (Philbrick 141). Grim and Gram taught about the importance of family support. Meanwhile, Loretta reinforced the lesson Grim taught Max about going out into the world and doing something, because every life is worth living. Indisputably, the theme of this story is that no matter what the circumstance, because moping is a waste of the opportunity all of our lives are!
Right at the beginning, Max is lonely and pessimistic, hating everything about himself, even saying his “brain is vacant”. As a young child, he is known as “Kicker”, venting his anger on others, using his way of “saying things with [his] fists and feet” (Philbrick 1). Tormented by the fact that he is a “spitting image of his old man” (Philbrick 25), a murderer who is in jail, Max leads rough childhood. Teased by his peers and whispered about by his own grandparents for looking like his murderer father, Killer Kane, Max is at the worst place he could be-- until Freak comes along. Seeing Freak’s intelligence and confidence, Max begins to put himself down even more. Then, when Max retrieves Freak’s ornithopter bird, a friendship begins to spark. Talking together, Max listens and opens up a little bit. He learns so much from Freak-- from new words, to actual life lessons. Max recounts one of the many times he spoke with Max, saying “Except later it was Freak himself who taught him that remembering is an invention of the mind, and...you can remember anything, whether it really happened or not” (Philbrick 2). This phrase sticks in Max’s mind, becoming key to an important lesson he learns later on. Being with Freak, having a friend, Max is hovering over the mopey pit that is his life, not quite out, watching, seeing the whispers continue, the Fair Gwen being scared of him.
As the story progresses, Max begins to feel a togetherness, as if he is part of a team and a family. When the Fair Gwen meets Max, he discovers that she isn’t scared of him at all. On the contrary, she speaks with him as if he was an adult. When Max goes home, thinking back on that day, he says, “Everything seems really great, just like Gwen says, except when I lie down on my bed, it hits me, boom, and I’m crying like a baby. And the really weird thing is, I’m happy” (Philbrick 27). Max finally feels included, a feeling he has never really experienced before. Not soon after, they go on dangerous adventures together, including standing up to the scary Tony D. After Max rescues Freak on his shoulders, Freak declares, “‘We’re Freak the Mighty, that’s who we are. We’re nine feet tall, in case you haven’t noticed ‘“ (Philbrick 40). Freak and Max both feel like they are being a part of something that is greater than themselves. When Freak declares that they are nine feet tall, he is referring to the fact that they can do so much more together, having fun, rather than alone. By towering above the world and “slaying dragons and fools”, Freak is showing Max that they defeat anyone out there, that they aren’t less than anyone. Max is feeling happier, knowing he is part of an unstoppable team, and this ecstasy changes his perspective on life for the first time.
Reaching the middle of the story, Max begins to favor his friend over his grandparents, and really allow himself to take a chance and try new things. A clear example of this is when he goes on his first night quest, despite the fact that Grim and Gram would never approve. For the sake of a fun adventure that would make his life more interesting, Max disregards his grandparents wishes, and finally has the confidence he needs. “ There’s no moon, the sky is dark and empty, and the backyards are so lonesome...the truth is, I’ve never been out alone at this time of night ” (Philbrick 57). Though he has opened up while spending time with Freak, he can’t bring himself to share his opinions or even answer a simple question in class. He describes his problem, saying, “I can’t explain what it is, except that my mouth shuts up when there’s more than one or two people, and a whole classroom full, forget it” (Philbrick 78). As Max is tormented by his peers throughout 8th grade, Freak consoles Max, but Freak the Mighty or not, Max still doesn’t value himself or believe in his intelligence, so he doesn’t feel that his opinion even matters. Meeting Loretta and Iggy, them saying he is “a ringer for old Killer Kane” (Philbrick 68), and in school constantly being ridiculed for being brainless makes Max feel broken inside. Deep down, Max hates himself for being like his father, and hates how he is always associated with him and can never be a good person because of his resemblance to his dad, his mom’s killer. Then, Freak makes a bold move: introducing Freak the Mighty to the 8th grade class, reminding Max to not let himself down, to make the best of his life and experiences.
As the story continues, Max and Freaks friendship continues to grow. At Christmastime, Max receives a very special gift from Freak: a dictionary. “‘Exactly,’ Freak says, ‘but different because this is my dictionary ’” (Philbrick 97). By hand creating a dictionary and putting in Freak’s favorite words and own point of view in terms of definitions, Freak is showing Max something that is essential to his growth. The dictionary is a symbol of what Freak has made of his life, despite all of his limitations --he hasn’t copied anyone else, he freely stated his own interpretation of the words, and he wasn’t shy about it. Freak is attempting to show Max that he can have an enriching life life while having so many physical problems, so why can’t Max? As time goes by, the story turns darker, as Max’s father gets released from jail and defies the restraining order put on him, not to mention stealing Max out of his own bed. At this point, Max is at a state of self reliance that he doesn’t panic, and he even says, “Somehow I always knew this would happen, that he would come for me, in the night, that I would wake up to find him there, filling the room, and I’d feel empty.” Max knew that confronting his father and his past as a whole was inevitable. He believes that it had to happen some day, and he won’t run away or feel hopeless, because he finally recognizes the importance of a meaningful life, and he wants a sense of closure. Max doesn’t want to feel like he spent his entire life running away from his past. He is at a state of maturity that he wants to end this, once and for all, and just get on with things. Over the course of the book, he has grown from panicky and shy to ready to confront his worst fear with bravery.
As the story reaches the climax, Max’s father continues to keep him under his custody, hiding him from the police, patronizing and chastising him, and even tying him up as he sees fit. Despite Iggy and Loretta’s previously bad behavior and criminal nature, they still have the heart in them to recognize that such misbehavior is completely immoral. Loretta expresses her opinion on this matter to Max while trying to rescue him from his father. “‘ It ain’t right,’ she whispers. ‘Keeping your own kid tied up, it ain’t right.’” As Loretta and Iggy prepare to rescue Max, they show him that he is worth saving, and no matter who his father is, he doesn’t deserve such horrible mistreatment. As Killer Kane notices the rescue attempt, he begins to kill her, the very same way he killed Max’s mother, all those years ago. Max travels back into his childhood, saying, “‘Stop! I see you! Daddy, please stop, you’re killing her!’” (Philbrick 48). Max is no longer afraid to stand up for what he knows is right, even when going through trauma and in an extremely difficult situation. With the help of Freak with his ingenious concoction of kitchen ingredients, Loretta and Max make their escape. However, the difficulties haven’t ended yet, since Freak suffers through a seizure and needs to visit the hospital.
As the story comes to a close, Max visits the hospital and the extent to which Freak is sick begins to sink in. Lying in the hospital bed, Freak gifts Max an empty book, and tells him to “fill it up with all our adventures” (Philbrick 150). The empty book is a symbol of all Max’s possibilities in life, and that this is only the beginning. Writing in the book symbolizes enjoying an enriching life, one to be proud of. As Freak dies, Max goes completely crazy, shoving people out of his way and seeking time alone. When he confronts Dr. Spivak about the fact that Freak lied to him about getting a robot body, she corrects him. She tells him that everyone needs something to hope for, and if that was what helped Freak get through his life, to make him feel better, then that isn’t lying. Dr. Spivak is implying that by going on adventures and dreaming about having a robot body, Freak made his life more interesting for himself, and in the following weeks, Grim tells Max the same thing. “Grim tries to tell me it isn’t how long you’ve got that matters, it’s what you do with the time you have” (Philbrick 158). Despite all these people trying to help him out, Max shuts them all out, hiding in the down under and wallowing in grief. Later, he meets Loretta on the street, and when she enquires on what he has been doing lately, he merely replies, “Nothing”. “ She gives me this long look, and she goes, ‘Nothing is a drag, kid. Think about it’” (Philbrick 160). By saying this, Loretta, like so many other people, is trying to show Max that one should always make the best of their life, no matter what the circumstance. Then, boom, Max gets it, and he begins to write about his experiences, all the “unvanquished truth stuff...going, for months and months, until it was spring again, and the world was really and truly green all over” (Philbrick 160). Spring and green represent Max’s autonomous happiness. Finally, Max has a value for his life and himself-- he truly has changed.
As Max goes through the roller coaster of his life, there are many consistent ideas and lessons people have to share with him. To begin with, Grim and Gram support Max as they see his true, empathetic and friendly nature. On the other hand, at the beginning of the novel, when Max’s grandparents whisper about him rather than stand by him, this has a huge negative effect on his self esteem. Therefore, a distinct theme of family runs through the book. Additionally, friendship is another prominent theme, for without Freak’s empathy and kindness towards Max, he would never have begun to gain confidence in the first place. Being together made Max feel happy and free of his past. Furthermore, Max learns that “Remembering is just an invention of the mind” (Philbrick 141). When Freak says this, he means that Max doesn’t have to remember or think about his father or his past if he doesn’t want to. He can forget things that will cause him pain, and remember only the things that make him happy. His brain has the power to recall whatever he wants. Another prominent idea is one that Loretta taught him, that one must never waste one’s life doing absolutely nothing, because that will ultimately be a waste of time and make one unhappy in the end. Even Max’s father taught Max an important lesson about betrayal, and being wary of those who lie and have killed. Now, Max knows not to blindly trust people, because there is always someone out there that doesn’t have pure intentions. All of these ideas and lessons neatly fit into one central idea: Life is always worth living. Every person mentioned has knowingly or unknowingly made life easier for Max in the end, taught him priceless life lessons. Sometimes, life can look bad,but the key is to just work through, keep having fun, knowing that someday, today or in a decade, light will prevail over darkness.It is evident that Max has learned to spread his wings and fearlessly fly into the sky like the
powerful bird he is. No longer a friendless, scared pessimist, Max finally embraces the life
given to him. With the help of his best friend, grandparents, and even his father, Loretta,
and Iggy, Max has become a completely changed person. The riveting story, Freak the
Mighty, urges us to value our lives, because this is our only opportunity. Think about it: if
your life ended now, would you have felt that your experience was fun, enriching, worth it?
Life can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye, so we should all cast aside all our
reservations, looking deep down inside of us...what do we truly want our life to be?