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Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Mister Max: Book of Lost Things" Mister Max #1 by Cynthia Voigt (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: Max Starling's theatrical father likes to say that at twelve a boy is independent. He also likes to boast (about his acting skills, his wife's acting skills, a fortune only his family knows is metaphorical), but more than anything he likes to have adventures. Max Starling's equally theatrical mother is not a boaster but she enjoys a good adventure as much as her husband. When these two disappear, what can sort-of-theatrical Max and his not-at-all theatrical grandmother do? They have to wait to find out something, anything, and to worry, and, in Max's case, to figure out how to earn a living at the same time as he maintains his independence. This is the first of three books, all featuring the mysterious Mister Max.

FORMAT: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things is a children's novel that stands at 400 pages. It contains mystery, adventure, and a 'coming of age' story. It is the first book in a series. It was published on September 10, 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things is a children's mystery novel with a 'coming of age' twist. The story revolves around young Max, who has been accidently left at home while his two crazy/absentminded parents have left on a luxury liner to some far off exotic country.

The circumstances surrounding the parents leaving is somewhat mysterious and young Max is left to fend for himself in a world filled with grownups. Max in an effort to pay bills and make ends meet passes himself off as a young adult (think ages 20-22) and starts taking on odd jobs that range from dog finder to uncovering the mystery of a lost person.

Max is able to successfully gain employment at these jobs by assuming the roles of some of his parent's recent theatrical productions. This allows him to appear grownup and get through some pretty tough situations that he wouldn't normally be able to handle.

On the outside, Mister Max: Book of Lost Things appears to be a novel that would be exciting, entertaining and filled with mystery and mystique. And while it may be just that for younger audiences, I found it to be slow moving, uninspiring and a bit of a disappointment.

My biggest problem with this entire novel was how utterly unbelievable things were. Max is a 12 year old child who has his parents mysteriously disappear. He is left with his grandma, who apparently cannot afford to help him out while his parents are gone. This forces him to quit school and wander around town looking for odd jobs – just to keep the house going and food on the table.

When his grandma tells him he can stay at her house, he keeps insisting that he wants to be 'grown up' and make his way in the world. His grandma does keep an eye on him, but for the most part he runs around being 'grown up' and the whole world mistakes him for an adult.

I just found this whole concept extremely unlikely and unbelievable. No, books don't have to be believable and realistic, but it was just so out there that my mind could not grasp it. Mix that in with the incredibly slow pace of the whole book and it just did not turn out well.

Another problem that I had was the novel was almost too predictable. Approximately halfway through it, I knew roughly how most of the storylines were going to end – with the exception of the mystery surrounding the parents (which was not solved in this novel).

There were elements that I found slightly entertaining – which made the book 'alright'. I found the use of an older European culture/world exciting and I really enjoyed the fact that this was a children's book that contained no true magic/superhero powers. After all, not every child is going to be head-over-heels in love with fantasy/magic/sci-fi.

I also found the mystery surrounding the parents' disappearance exciting once it started to pick up – which was about three-fourths of the way through the novel. It is this part of the novel that would keep me coming back for book 2, as it sort of 'redeemed' the novel for me at the end.

Overall, my impression of this novel was neutral. Cynthia Voigt is such an amazingly talented author – I have read other books by her – unfortunately, Mister Max just didn't showcase this talent. Maybe a younger audience will appreciate it and not look at it so critical – as they can ignore some of the parts that are unbelievable, but I think an older audience will find it hard to believe and extremely slow/uneventful.


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