Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things (Mister Max, Book 1)
Iacopo Bruno, illustrator
Voigt is a well known author, to be sure (especially for her Tillerman books–Dicey’s Song was a Newbery winner from back in the day). She also won the Margaret A. Edwards award in 1995 (for lifetime achievement). And yet, we haven’t heard much from her in recent years.
There’s no question that Voigt can write, and write well at that. On the surface, her latest book seemed tailor made for me: I love a good mystery. I enjoy historic time periods and settings. I relish a good, open ending. Quirky characters, a dog, some art, the life of the theater–what’s not to like?
When the book opens, Max’s parents–both actors and owners of the Starling Theater Company–are planning a monumental trip to India. Max gets to go along. Until the day his parents board the boat and the boat leaves…without him. But, because Max is a quick thinker, he soon finds out that the boat they were supposed to board didn’t exist. Therefore, did the whole trip exist? Are his parents in trouble? Did they know about this ahead of time? Is this an elaborate game or some nefarious plot? The reader doesn’t know either, and we spend the next several hundred pages working on this mystery along with Max.
Thankfully, Max’s grandmother lives close by, so he’s not completely alone at the tender age of 12. He also has his painting instructor, a new tutor, and a new spunky girl to help him make sense of life and survive. And survive he does through his newly created “Mister Max” business: he solves minor mysteries for hire. Each time Max shows up for a new job, he’s crafted a new disguise using his parents’ many costumes. Thus, no one knows it’s really a twelve year old boy underneath.
By the end of the book, we’ve learned a lot about Max and his parents (including where they are, although not how/why they got there), and Max has helped long lost lovers reunite, his painting instructor discover a new technique, and made some good friends. We’re nicely set up, too, for the next book in the series.
And yet… Frankly, this book was too long. I finished it several weeks ago and am still mulling over just what didn’t work. I enjoyed the characterization both of Max and the supporting cast. I enjoyed the overall dramatic framework of the book (“Act I”). But the length of the book draws out the mystery surrounding the parents’ disappearance a little too long. We’re bored with where his parents might be by the end and are much more invested in the here and now with Max and his new friends.