Author: Cynthia Voigt| Website
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: Mystery, Adventure| Pages: 400
Today’s feature is one of those reads where I feel as if it’s wonderfulness has been dropped into my lap. I had no idea this book existed until it was sent to me, and now I wonder how in the world I had not heard about it. It’s a adventurous mystery right up my alley. And the setting of an early-modern past in a Victorian British seaside town made me fall even more in love with where this story is headed.
I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated in any way for my review (cross my heart) nor did I promise a good rating. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine.
Max Starling comes from a theatrical family. And though his father cis constantly (emotionally) raving about Max, a boy of twelve, being independent–it’s a little different when he’s running off on adventures with his equally theatrical wife and leaving the boy behind.
When Max’s parents disappear, he somehow knows (or at least really thinks) that it isn’t from their own doing. After all, adventures are fun but they really wouldn’t leave him behind. Would they?
Since he’s a little bit theatrical himself, and stuck with his non-theatrical grandmother, Max realizes that he is in fact going to have to own up to this independent thing and use some of those theater skills to earn a living. All the while trying to solve the mystery of his missing parents.
Five Reasons Why This Book is Marvelous!
- Oh Cynthia Voigt. She has been a favorite author of mine since my childhood. Though Mister Max is far from my favorite of her Bad Girls series. Mister Max is intriguing. And different. I think I can safely say I have not read a book like this before. Sure, it follows some of the middle grade qualities such as an “orphaned” protagonist. (Though here, Max is simply emotionally distant from his parents and essentially physically distant as they disappear.) There’s something exotic encouraging him forward in the plot, and the setting is historic and early modern (Think Hugo Cabret). But Voigt does something different with the story. It’s set up as acts and stories within a story. The plot is ever changing as sub-plots enter, and Max discovers new mysteries to solve. But he never lets go of the one mystery important to him.
- And that’s his family. Though readers do realize at the beginning that his parents might not be the greatest, and I felt they sort of forgot him or emotionally pushed him to the side, Max loves his family. He may be a young boy in need of adventure, but there are times throughout the story when he simply realizes he doesn’t want to be alone. I love how one of the underlying themes is the importance of family and togetherness. In a society where dinner together as a family can be overlooked, Max’s Grandmother’s assistance that dinner “promptly at 6” is important transitions as a nice reminder that we should all take time to gather ’round the table.
- I will admit the story started off a little slow for me, but that could also be because I’m swamped with school reading and have a hard time sitting down to focus on something fun. However, once I got into the groove of Voigt’s storytelling and the sense of the story being an Act all to itself, I began to see how the smallest of incidents slowly become part of the bigger picture. Everything has reason in this story. Everything has it’s place. It’s a wonderful play on structure, overall creating a beautiful storyline.
- Max himself is a wonderful character. Again, I am in love with a story who has a boy protagonist. One who is adventurous, independent, creative, and particularly theatrical. Max is constantly “recreating” himself dependent on the situation, and uses his parent’s theatrical company props to help him along the way often dressings in costumes and become someone completely different but needed in the situation. He’s simply a charming and original boy–and the integration of theater makes this such a quirky story!
- Along the way, it turns out Max has a talent for finding lost things-such as a child, a dog, a missing heirloom, and lost love–just not his parents. But I think that’s why I love this book so much. The initial conflict itself is not quite resolved, but we learn just enough to keep us guessing and wanting more. So for the first of a planned trilogy, my excitement is on edge and I’m ready for more of Max’s theatrics and knack for finding things.
As one last side note–as much as a wonderful story this is–I can see it being more of a gown-up version of a children’s classic. There is so much depth to this story, and it’s quirkiness, challenges, structure, and lack of violence are so far different from MG fiction today that I hope beyond hope it is a story that children still want to pick up to read. I encourage any adults who have read this story to place it in the hands of a middle grader and to discuss the differences of this story to others, as well as picking out all of the wonderful possibilities it holds.
Book Talk: Have you heard of Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things? If not–what do you think now? A story that would interest kids too different and “historical” that it needs more encouragement to find the hands of young readers?