Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things (Book 1)
by Cynthia Voigt
Edited by Nancy Siscoe
Cover Artist: Iacopo Bruno
Review by Gayle Surrette
Knopf Books for Young Readers Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780307976819
Date: 10 September 2013
List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Max's parents, William and Mary Starling, are actors in the Starling Theatrical Company. They play parts all the time; sometime they even play the part of parents. William Starling often said that at 12 a boy is ready to be independent. Max had just turned 12 the previous September. Was it a coincidence that his parents were asked by the Maharajah of Kashmir to travel to India to start a theater company for him. The invitation was for William and Mary. When Max asked about himself, they played the parts of caring parents and sent a note to ask for a ticket for Max.
On the day they were to leave, Max had one last art lesson and was to meet his parents at the ship on the docks. When Max arrived there was no ship. After asking of the dock master, he learned there had never been a ship of that name there and no one had seen his parents. Max was on his own whether he wanted to be or not. Except… his grandmother lived in the house behind his parents with easy access through the back garden. Together they might figure this out.
Thus begins, Mister Max's adventure. His parents are missing -- by design or accident or something more sinister, Max doesn't know. But he'd worked at the theater and taken many parts when required. He was tall for his age and knew how to fill a role. His grandmother could be counted on for good advice, assistance, and guidance, although she could sometimes be too intrusive and controlling.
Max needs to find a way to make money, figure out what had happened to his parents, and find a balance with his grandmother, both for independence for him, and security that he'd be safe for her. Luckily, Max finds he has a talent for reading people and finding things.
The story is set in the past -- early 1900s is my guess only -- and seems to be set in England. Max at 12 is very independent and level headed. He's probably more responsible than his parents in part due to his grandmother's influence. But he's also aware of his limitations because of age and finances. He's an interesting and believable main character -- one readers can root for and care about.
Throughout his many adventures as he tries to find a job and a way to earn money, maintain his educational studies, and solve the problems of those he runs into along the way -- he seeks answers to his parent's disappearance.
There's plenty to keep the pages turning and I was sorely disappointed to find that this is the first of a trilogy featuring Mister Max. The publicity material says this is a book for 8-12 year olds, however, this is really a book for all ages. It's not as physically dangerous as adult adventure novels but is certainly unsettling and scary enough for the intended age range. The writing is excellent, with a vocabulary that may be a stretch for some readers but easily within reach from context.
Max is intelligent with a good common sense understanding of the world and how it works. If read to younger readers, or shared with the intended audience, there's a lot of opportunities for discussion with parents, teachers, and other peer readers.
I'm not in the intended audience, but I loved reading about Max and his quest for independence and appreciated his desire to learn if his parents need him to save them, or whether they purposely left him behind. That's a scary enough thought for any child to deal with -- and many adults to deal with also.
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