Book Review: ‘Mister Max’ by Cynthia Voigt

mistermaxNewbery medalist Cynthia Voigt (“Kingdom,” “Tillerman” and “Bad Girls” series) brings her considerable storytelling experience to an inventive adventure with a unique and resourceful protagonist. Intended for readers from 8-12, Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things is the first in a planned trilogy about the likeable and realistically drawn twelve-year-old Maximilian Starling.

Day to day, he’s just Max, a schoolboy who doesn’t quite fit in with his peers because his parents are larger-than-life and excessively flamboyant theater people who find drama in everything. Just Max is just “different.” Max’s has a nagging problem: his parents are lost. They’re lost as in missing, misplaced, misunderstood, potentially kidnapped, or enacting a drama without due regard to Max who’s been left behind in an empty house.

Fortunately, his grandmother lives nearby. Unfortunately she is, in Max’s opinion, inclined to be bossy. They agree, however, that it’s better for Max’s school to assume Max is on a trip with his parents. After all, that was the plan before William and Mary Starling of the Starling Theatrical Company disappeared. Grammie and Max also agree that the authorities, whoever they may be, need not know about Max’s mostly empty house.

Readers will identify with Max because, like any twelve-year-old with lost parents, Max is a bit overwhelmed by the questions and emotions racing through his head. However, he is determined to meet the challenges of independence head on. He needs money and that means he needs a job even though nobody seems to be hiring twelve-year-old applicants without experience.

Voigt has blessed her protagonist with a skill he doesn’t immediately see has having any value outside the walls of the Starling Theatrical Company: he knows about roles and costumes. While he doesn’t really want to call himself a private detective, the world of roles and costumes and his preoccupation with that which is lost make him adept at helping others–at a reasonable fee–find what they need to find.

The story is filled with memorable characters, humor and a series of lost and found adventures that will stir up the imaginations of young readers who might speculate about what they would do if their parents were lost. Voigt’s words, which (figuratively, of course) dance and sparkle on the page, are supported by Iacopo Bruno’s magical illustrations.

The illustrations and plot twists bring a heady 19th-century daring-do to a story that sweeps toward a suitably over-the-top cliffhanger ending that should satisfy readers while Voigt decides how Max is going to find his way out of his next dilemma. Young readers will find that Mister Max is filled with wonder, mystery and plenty of adventure.

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy short stories and novels including “The Seeker” and “Emily’s Stories.”