you can believe it, until last week I had never read a book by Cynthia
Voigt. Many people have recommended her contemporary series that focuses
on the Tillerman family. Two of those books received a Newbery award or
honor. Besides other series, Voigt has also written a number of
stand-alone books, one of which won an Edgar award from the Mystery
Writers of America.
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things is the first in a planned trilogy. It takes place about a century ago in a small coastal town in England. Max is just twelve years old, but he wishes he were more independent and grownup. Good thing he's smart and resourceful, because his life is about to change.
- Book summary: Young Max Starling is the only child of two actors who own a theater and manage a successful theatrical troupe. One day they get a letter inviting them to perform for an Indian maharajah, and Max's parents are happy to accept the all-expenses-paid journey to an exotic land. But before Max can meet them at the dock, his parents have disappeared, leaving him behind. Fortunately, Max's grandmother lives next door, and he moves in with her until he can solve the mystery of his parents' fate.
- Questions: What happened to Max's parents? Were they tricked or kidnapped? Did they run away? How can Max earn enough money to help out his grandmother until his parents can be found?
- Answers: Max discovers he's good at finding lost things and solving problems and decides he will become a solutioneer. He even acquires a few paying clients. As for his parents . . . no spoilers!
- Characters: Max is a good kid who is on the verge of being old enough to live on his own. He keeps up with his schooling and loves his watercolor lessons. He is kind, smart, and clever. Grammie is a retired schoolteacher and is now the town librarian. She loves to do research. Although she's supportive of Max's desire to be independent, she keeps a close eye on him. Pia, the twelve-year-old daughter of a self-made man, befriends Max and likes to help him with his solutioneer work.
- Thoughts: The mysteries Max has to solve are not very difficult but are made fun because of Max's problem-solving techniques. He's a decent actor and makes good use of his parents' props and costumes to take on different roles while he searches for lost people, animals, and items. The supporting characters are a nice mix of personalities and add color to the story. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure if the Max books will be a hit with middle grade readers: there isn't much action and many of the theater references will be lost on kids (and some were lost on me!). Despite appealing characters and an intriguing premise, Mister Max didn't fully draw me in.
- Audiobook notes: The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 11 hr, 4 min) was nicely read by Paul Boehmer, who seemed to be well aware that his target audience was young readers. His performance verged on the overly dramatic but in a way that will appeal to children. I too enjoyed the audiobook; I just wish the story had been a bit stronger. Note that although the print book is illustrated with charming black-and-white drawings I didn't feel as if I had missed out by listening instead of reading.
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
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