Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Freak the Mighty cover“Freak” is Kevin, a sheltered preteen who has a form of dwarfism that, among other things, makes it difficult for him to walk. He’s focused his energy on learning, and it shows. “Mighty” is Max, who looks more like his father every day — not great news when your father is in jail for murdering your mother, and you’re living with grandparents who hated him even before that. Max has never been good in school, and has a reputation for taking out his frustrations on others.

The summer before grade eight, Kevin and his mother move in just down the street from Max. There’s some tension at first, but the boys soon discover that they make a surprisingly effective pair. With Kevin on Max’s shoulders, the two set out on knightly “quests” — standing up to bullies, rescuing a stolen purse — and along the way, Kevin coaches Max on reading and vocabulary. When they start school in September, things seem to go better for both boys than they ever have before. When things go badly wrong, though, it’ll take more than legends and big words to get them through.

I came across the movie The Mighty years ago, and loved it, but hadn’t read the book until now. What I remembered most from the movie was Max’s fear that he might be like his father after all, and to be honest, I didn’t really feel that level of depth in the book. The painful aspects of Kevin and Max’s lives were there, but understanding the more complex consequences of those realities depends heavily on the reader’s imagination. While this means that the story isn’t quite what I remembered, it does allow the novel to speak to readers of different ages, and even to the same reader at different times. A worthwhile pick for readers grade six and up who are interested in something a bit heavier.

Read the Nerdy Book Club or Inis review.

Check out a teaching guide for Freak the Mighty.

Watch the trailer for the movie adaptation, The Mighty.

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