by Rodman Philbrick
I read this months ago, and only recently realized that I never got around to writing a review. So now a lot of the details have faded from memory, but here’s what I remember (and my impressions):
“I never had a brain until Freak came along ….”
So opens this short novel written for the pre-teen set. Max, unnaturally large for his age (to the point that people are scared of him) has been deemed stupid, slow, etc., etc. all his life, and is in the special ed class at school. The summer before eighth grade, Kevin moves into the neighborhood, and everything changes. Kevin, who has a rare form of dwarfism, and who happens to be a genius, recognizes in Max what nobody else has before: that he’s actually a worthwhile human being. Oh, and he’s actually not stupid. Together, they call themselves “Freak the Mighty,” and go forth having adventures and giving the finger to everyone who disses them.
So, once again (see Out of My Mind and Wonder) we have a feel-good story for kids that purports to set forth a lesson in tolerance, compassion, diversity, and inclusion, but which fails because it denigrates intellectual disability. It’s okay to be disabled, but it’s not okay to be intellectually disabled. This is the message served up with lots of syrup to disguise it. This message – this reiteration of the hierarchy of disability with intellectual disability at the very bottom – seems to be proliferate in children’s literature, which is, of course, merely a reflection of real life attitudes.
At its heart, this is a story about friendship and loyalty and discovering our own worth and believing in it. Sadly, the other message kind of ruins it.