Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick is a fantastic novel about what it means to be different from a child’s point of view.
Maxwell Kane is a troubled young man. He grows taller by the day, and is teased because of his size. He struggles with his lessons at school, the words slide away from him on the page and he is afraid of speaking in front of his peers, for which he is teased. Added to that is the fact that Maxwell is the son of Killer Kane, a man who is currently in prison for the murder of Maxwell’s mother. Everyone is at great pains to point out how like his father Maxwell looks, and Maxwell lives with the fear that he might be more like his father than anyone knows.
Maxwell lives with his grandparents, hiding out in a damp, basement bedroom, trying to make himself as invisible as possible.
It’s not really working.
Maxwell’s life is changed forever when he meets Kevin. Kevin has a type of dwarfism where his insides grow faster than his outsides. Despite his size, Kevin tackles life as if he were ten feet tall. He has a brain the size of a planet, and the most unusual way of thinking about things that Maxwell has ever come across.
The two form an unlikely friendship in which Kevin introduces Maxwell to his world, and they team up to become greater than the sum of their parts: ‘Freak the Mighty’. As Freak the Mighty, Kevin and Maxwell find acceptance and a way in to a world which has previously kicked them to the curb. They become magnificent.
The book is written from Maxwell’s point of view, and at first I found it quite hard going, as Maxwell has a very distinctive voice which took me a little time to attune to. After a couple of chapters I was totally gripped, and became immersed in the vivid picture of his life that Maxwell paints.
The book is funny, scary and desperately sad in places, but we are saved from despair by a huge dollop of hope. The book is not sentimental or preachy and the inclusion of the scary parts, which are quite exciting, will grip readers who might be otherwise put off by the potential sentimentality of the book.
This would be a fantastic book to read with an upper Key Stage two class. Our Year Six teacher picks a book at the start of every academic year, which is about difference and acceptance. This year she chose the fantastic book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Next year I will urge her to choose Freak the Mighty.
I would recommend this for both boys and girls aged from ten upwards.