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The Book of Lost Things (Mister Max) Hardcover – September 10, 2013
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Best Books of the Month: Middle Grade, September 2013: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things is an imaginative blend of mystery and adventure, the first of a proposed trilogy. We begin with twelve-year-old Maximilian Sterling's very theatrical parents mysteriously disappearing, leaving him in the care of his grandmother. What follows is not what I expected--a wonderful surprise. While waiting for news of his parents, Max stumbles into detective work that he calls the job of "solutioneer," because sometimes there is more to finding a solution than simply retrieving what has been lost. Max’s theatrical upbringing serves him well, with disguises and personas that are often comical and always exactly what is needed to get the job done. If only he could figure out how to solve his own mystery: the whereabouts of his parents. Mister Max is a thoughtful and beautifully written novel that will reassure the most timid of readers that hidden within themselves is a wealth of courage and untapped possibility. --Seira Wilson
From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Admirers of Voigt's "Tillerman" series (S & S) will recognize several plot points in this first volume of a proposed trilogy: a child is seemingly deserted by his parents and survives with the support of his grandmother. But there the similarities end, for this is a mystery-cum-adventure story with a 19th-century feel and an accumulation of improbabilities that build to a satisfyingly melodramatic climax. As Maximilian Starling wends his way around his nameless city trying to find an honest day's work, he stumbles across a series of people with problems, unanswered questions, unsatisfied longings, or vague states of malaise. And then there are the sinister types who seem intent on breaking into Max's house. What are they looking for? Fortunately, Max's parents were theatricals, which gives him both an intimate knowledge of roles to assume while pretending to be old enough for employment and an ample supply of costumes in which to disguise himself. Whether it's finding a good home for a lost dog, facilitating the reunion of disappointed lovers, or recovering a long-lost heirloom, Max displays good sense, a sensitive nature, and winning ingenuity. He resists being labeled a detective and since he merely guides people toward the resolution of their troubles, it's fitting that he calls himself a "solutioneer." By book's end, however, he has not answered his own questions. Readers still don't know what has happened to his parents, for example. This will likely leave them strangely contented, knowing that Voigt has so much more to reveal in the sequels to this comedic page-turner.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NYα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Top Customer Reviews
Now with that disclaimer out of the way, let me say I adored this book and Max. Cynthia Voigt wins high praise for me because she is one of the best authors at making you love her main character, narrator usually. Right off the bat, they're flawed and ridiculously high-minded and during the span of the story, she makes them develop into layered, smart-thinking but changed for the better as they become more open-minded and realize the world doesn't work within the confines of their idealistic worldviews. It's such a gift to see this sort of character development, especially in middle-school aged characters.
Maximilian Starling is darling, and only twelve, but he has skills. The keen eye of observation and hard true-boiled logic of a detective, which is helpful considering his parents have disappeared and left him behind with only a cryptic note for him to find. He has no idea what to think. Have they been kidnapped or forced away against their will or are they just up to some odd prank because granted his parents are very strange.
So Max gets a job because he's going to need an income to live while looking for his parents. And finds out he's quite good at following people, tracking dogs and overall listening when others do not -- a solutioneer is what he calls himself. The tasks start easily enough, but he quickly finds himself in need of help and acquires it in the forms of many people, and usually of the female sort.
He might not be shy but Max has been sheltered more than he thought despite his parents' actor-ly livelihood. This turns out to be disadvantage until he meets some guides who help him learn and navigate all the sides of his city. Again through his interaction with his own peers, an elderly lady and clients, Max's transformation as a sort of stuck in his ideals thinker grows into a I want to see the world in all its glory even if it means walking the seedier sides of town.
This book definitely has a cozy, old school charm like it says in the introduction. Such a beautiful cover and the details of the illustrations (we only get one full illustration but it reminds me of the Series of Unfortunate Events b&w sketches) and the accents, the background on black pages have Baroque-styled designs you would find in old classic books and there will be maps. I received it wrapped in brown paper and tied up with twine so it looked like a parcel from the early days it is set in. Such care and detail and catchy cover makes this book an overall package that would work as a lovely gift for any reader on your list.
The mystery is good too. It isn't an easy thing to figure out, but it is heavily foreshadowed as a mystery for this age group should be. If I had to make a comparison, I am reminded heavily of Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series. Both these series are wonderful and brilliant for the age group they are aimed, without anything... plot, setting, tone and issues of story kept age appropriate but smart, witty and historically-accurate for learning beyond the act of comprehension. They are a vocabulary lesson and history lesson and a social lesson in how to mature into an independent thinker.
But I have now gone from reviewing just Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things to reviewing it and the Enola Holmes series... so back to topic. If you need a book for a boy or girl reader who wants to be pushed into more critical thinking and comprehension, this book is amazing for that. If you need a book to entertain you... this book works great for that too.
So what am I saying... This book can be enjoyed by everyone. Really... Truly... that is the gift of Cynthia Voigt. She writes stories that no one can really put boundaries upon because they're so good, everyone wants to read them.
I found this book to very engaging, and I was happy to see Voigt author a book that is so obviously meant to appeal to middle school boys. For some reason, my students tend to think of her Tillerman Cycle series as primarly targeted toward girls, and I have been unable to change that thinking. I'm hoping this book will prove to be my ally.
The basic premise of the plot is that the hero, twelve-year-old Max, has been left behind with his grandmother while his parents, who are famous actors and have their own theater, go on an exotic trip to India. Max's father has been emphasizing that Max is turning 13 and is very nearly a man and should be ready for some independence. There is great mystery surrounding his parents' departure; there is reason to think foul play might be involved and that they had lied to him about their destination. The rest of the book revolves around Max's struggles to earn enough money to live in his own house and provide for himself apart from his grandmother.
The time setting for the novel is crucial, and seems to be late nineteenth or early twentieth century. At this time, people were only just beginning to come to the belief that older (tweens and up) children are not simply property of their parents and deserve special attention and protection under the law. There were still children in the U.S. who had been "bought" overseas and were serving out their purchase price as indentured servants. Add to these facts that Max looks much older than he is and, being raised in the theatre, can act out parts as an adult, and much of what seems incredible to twentyfirst century readers becomes believable. (We currently have an eighth grade boy, aged 14, in our building who could easily pass for mid-twenties.) Despite his ability to appear an adult, the narrator makes it clear he is always an uncertain and scared twelve-year-old in his heart, though he gains confidence as the story progresses.
The plot follows a very consistent moderate pace, which seems right for the type of action depicted. The narration is an odd form of the British semi-sarcastic humor. I think of it as Pratchett-Adams Lite. Where the book shines is in character building. You can't help but come to love Max for his compassion and persistence. The main female character, Pia, and the adults in the story are all brought to life in charming fashion.
If you're looking for a warm, light read with wonderful characters and an interesting story line, you should enjoy this book. My students are already checking it out of my in-class library based on a waiting list.
This story is so SPECIAL to me, and so close to my heart, and I am so glad to be acquainted with this series. I love Mister Max!!!!
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