Goodreads: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
Series: Mister Max #1
Published: September 2013
Max’s parents arranged to meet him upon the Flower of Kashmir to take the trip of a lifetime. When Max arrives at the harbor, however, the ship does not exist and his parents are missing. Luckily Max possesses a talent for finding things—lost children, lost dogs, and even lost loves. Dressed in various disguises, he roams the city solving other people’s mysteries—but will he be able to solve his own?
The Book of Lost Things was a delightful surprise. Sometimes books in a genre all seem to blur together. Sometimes middle-grade offerings all seem the same. Cynthia Voigt, however, takes a standard middle-grade plot–that of the missing parents–and transforms it into something new. Readers may not fully swallow the details of the plot, but the adventure on which Max takes them is so fun that most will probably suspend their disbelief willingly, just to continue.
This book announces its determination to do something different from the very beginning–when Max loses his parents, but is not left alone. That’s right. Max has a grandmother and she loves him and cares for him and feeds him. And she helps him solve the mystery. Max still wants to be independent. He seems to think that caring for himself will make losing his parents more bearable. But that’s okay. His grandmother is still there if he needs her; she gives him space without ever letting him do anything too stupid. And thus we have a rare example of a book in which children can rely on adults while still having fun.
Max’s independence comes largely in the area of getting a job, which also makes sense since his grandmother does not make enough money to support both of them. (Her job, incidentally, is also a pretty good way of keeping her out of the way when Max goes off exploring.) The job he eventually lands will probably tax the belief of readers–he becomes some sort of detective, which means he dresses up in various outfits, pretending to be a portly middle-aged man, a university student, and more all while still a child. And people buy it. But, hey, at least Voigt tried to explain it by making his parents actors. And the job search itself was pretty realistic for these times–Max looks all over town but no one’s hiring. Usually characters seem to land the first job they walk into.
If readers can get past these amazing feats of disguise, they may very well find the rest of the plot both enchanting and amusing. It is always fun to see who Max will be next and how his clients will react to his appearance. He seems to have a pretty good idea of how people work–apparently it comes from reading Shakespeare–and his reasonings for costumes are just as fun as the outfits themselves. Some of the plot elements will be familiar (this is a middle-grade book and not all “mysteries” are that mysterious), but surprises are still in store and I think most will not predict the ending.
The only problem now is that I have to wait to get my hands on the sequel.