Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things (Book 1) by Cynthia Voigt
Max’s parents were entertainers. William and Mary Starling owned the town’s only theater where they produced, adapted, acted, and managed the entertainment for their busy bustling port town in an age before television and radio were invented. They lived, breathed and dreamed of performing. They even took their show on the road from time to time. That is why they didn’t bat an eyelash when a courier brought to their door an invitation to perform for an important political figure across the sea. Of course they would go, but would they take Max?
Max’s parents forgot about him from time to time, especially when they were excited, or planning a new production. He did perform with them once in awhile, but he was mostly busy going to school. If Max didn’t travel with his parents, he usually stayed with his Grandmother, who lived in the house behind their garden. She used to be a school teacher, but was now a librarian. He didn’t mind staying with her, but she could be a little bit bossy. At 12, he wanted to be more independent. He didn’t realize he would soon get his wish.
On the morning of their departure, Max had a painting lesson. Then he was to meet his parents aboard the ship, The Flower of Kashmir, and join them for the journey. But when he arrived on time at the appointed place, the ship was not there. Neither were his parents. In fact, when he checked with the harbormaster, a ship of that name had never been registered nor seen in port. All his efforts to find them were fruitless.
Steam powered ships took time to reach their destinations in the early 1900’s, so Max and Grammie noted which ships were in the harbor that day, and watched their progress. It would take about a month to reach their ports, so in the meantime Max needed to find work to earn enough to live on. That’s when his adventures began.
My first impression reading this was that it fit in with the classics for middle grade readers very well. I thought of Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web, Julie of the Wolves, Where the Red Fern Grows and The Indian in the Cupboard when I read this. The author writes with a droll sort of humor and touches on things young readers want to read.
Max is a young man in the making. He has problems to solve; the first and foremost was whether or not his parents were missing by accident, by plot, or on purpose. With each situation he has to face, he draws on his parents’ acting roles (and trunks of costumes) for intuition. He adopts many roles, sometimes with comic results, until he finds the role he is most comfortable with: being himself. Yet by the end of the book, his parents were still missing. Fortunately, with his Grammie’s research and networking skills, they have some clues.
Max is a likable young person. When he adopts a role, no one seems to know what to make of him. Yet he always leaves a lasting impression and makes friends in the unlikeliest places. I think his character in this book would appeal to a wide variety of young readers. He also serves as a role model in how to deal with such issues as feelings of abandonment, the unwanted attention of a nosy girl, a break-in, criticism, a well meaning grandmother, and eventually clients.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley, on behalf of Random House Children’s Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”