When NetGalley offered a Cynthia Voigt book for review, I immediately put in a request. I have been a fan since at least the early 1980’s, when my mother first urged me to read Dicey’s Song (I was definitely beyond the middle grade reader by then, but she was a teacher, and loved to recommend books — still does.) Since then I’ve read other Cynthia Voigt books, most recently Young Fredle, because, quite honestly, I cannot pass up a good book about a mouse.
Mister Max was a pure gem of a book. For some reason — perhaps the setting, or the time period, or the curious bits of magic — it reminded me of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Without trying to summarize here, as I always hate to do, I will say that Max is a 12-year-old boy who has been mysteriously abandoned by his actor parents. Max is convinced that he must prove he can live independently until they (hopefully) return. How he rises to the occasion to accomplish this is nothing short of wondrous. What I found most surprising and poignant was the way in which Max was able to hang on to his innocence and his optimism despite the desperate nature of his circumstances. He is lucky enough to have his grandmother nearby, but she is only able to offer comfort and support, since her finances are slim. I loved this because Max simply accepts that, in some sense, he must also look after his grandmother in his parents’ absence. Please, can I get a Grandson like this? (of course, many years from now, when I’m old enough to be a grandmother…)
The only problem I had with the book was that Max just seemed a bit too lucky. While I wanted him to succeed, many of the events fell a little too neatly into place. Of course, this is comforting if you are a parent reading this, concerned about a young boy left to fend for himself, but I think maybe a young reader might find it unrealistic. Having said that, there are bad things that happen too, and the ending is not so easily resolved, because, of course there is a part two and three to this set. In some ways, the story is told with a grain of salt, a bit Lemony Snicket-ish, which, of course, I love.
The time period and location seem to be deliberately ambiguous here; so there is a certain air of fable to the story. The minor characters bring out the best and worst in each other, and their interactions were often comical, sometimes serious. When Max’s business finally gets underway, he discovers the confusing truth we all learn at some point in our lives; not everything that is lost really needs to be found. Despite this, I am so happy to have found this book. Can't wait to see what happens next.