By Ekta R. Garg
December 25, 2013
Rated: Bookmark it!
A young boy’s actor parents disappear, leaving him in a tentative guardianship with his maternal grandmother. The disappearance baffles the boy, but he decides to put on a brave face and try to manage without his mother and father. He knows they love him—he thinks—and that something must have thwarted their original plans to take him on a trip. As he waits for his parents to come back, he engages in a variety of pursuits to support himself and not become a financial burden on his grandmother. Cynthia Voigt’s prose epitomizes whimsy in the wonderful new book Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things.
An only child, twelve-year-old Maximilian Starling—Max to everyone—has grown up in the theater. His parents, William and Mary, run and act in the productions of the Starling Theatrical Company. William and Mary live in an ongoing state of performance with grand flourishes at the breakfast table and soliloquies that wax eloquent in the garden. The successful theater company ensures that they never run out of material or reason to exhibit melodrama, and even though Max knows his parents behave differently from other people he enjoys them as they are. Never mind that sometimes, for a few moments, they actually forget his existence.
On a Sunday morning William receives a letter signed the Maharajah of Kashmir. The maharajah wants to start a theater company and needs the help of the Starlings to train actors and teach them as well as ancillary staff how to keep a theater company going. The invitation asks them to leave in two weeks on a ship named the Flower of Kashmir and come to India, where adventures and riches await. Because Max has a painting lesson the day of the sailing, he agrees to meet his parents at the dock.
The situation quickly goes awry when Max reaches the dock on the appointed day at the appointed time and can’t find his parents. Things get worse when he finds out that no ship named the Flower of Kashmir has ever docked in this port. Moreover, there are no ships going anywhere near India. There aren’t even any scheduled to sail at the time stated in the invitation.
Max feels baffled. What should he do now? His parents left him a cryptic note with the Harbormaster that offers absolutely no explanation. With no other course of action, he goes to his grandmother’s home and tells her what happened. Grammie shares Max’s shock but quickly takes charge. Surely, she reasons, at some point William and Mary will find a way to communicate with them and tell them what happened.
Money becomes a slight concern. While Grammie has some income from her job as a librarian, it doesn’t stretch far enough to support both her and Max for an indefinite period. So Max begins to explore potential sources of income and discovers that he doesn’t have to travel halfway around the world to experience some wonderful life adventures.
Veteran author Cynthia Voigt takes her time to build the story with one delightful turn occurring after another. Max will charm readers from the beginning and compel them to stay with him all the way to the end, cheering for him in the process and waiting with bated breath to find out whether his parents come home. While Voigt never forgets she is writing a book for a YA audience, she also balances that with the reality of Max’s circumstances. At key intervals throughout the book he misses his parents with a refreshing realism that doesn’t descend into anything dark. The illustrations, too, add to the book’s whimsy and charm. Readers should take as much time to enjoy them as they do the story.
The first in a planned trilogy, Cynthia Voigt hits all the right literary notes in a book that will keep readers waiting for the sequel. Younger readers will thoroughly enjoy Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things, but they might have to share the book with the grownups in their lives. I wholeheartedly recommend this one.