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Book Review

Max the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the sequel to Philbrick’s book Freak the Mighty.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Max Kane is a 14-year-old boy with the body of an adult. He lives with his grandparents, Gram and Grim, since his dad is in jail for killing his mom. Max often recalls his brilliant friend Kevin, who wore leg braces and had a disease that stunted his growth. Kevin showed Max how to think, and together, they were known as Freak the Mighty. Since Kevin’s death last year, Max has felt anything but mighty.

Max hears yelling one day and sees a gang-banger picking on an 11-year-old girl. The thug has riffled through her backpack and taken a miner’s helmet. Max stands up to the bully and retrieves the girl’s helmet for her.

When he sees her again in the park with her mother, she gives him a book. Her name is Rachel, but Max refers to her as Worm since she’s a bookworm. As they’re talking, a black-clad street preacher Max knows as the Undertaker approaches. Max learns the man is Worm’s stepfather, and he has a bad feeling about the Undertaker’s unkind behavior toward Worm and her mother.

Max sees Worm’s address in the book she has loaned him, so he goes to the low-income part of town to find her. Upon arrival, he sees the Undertaker beating Worm’s mother. Worm’s mom begs Max to take the girl, so he scoops Worm up and carries her out of the house.

Max takes Worm to his house, assuring her his grandparents will know what to do. The kids hide outside when they realize the Undertaker and police have beat them there. Worm’s mother has corroborated the Undertaker’s story, that Max came to their house, became violent with the mother and kidnapped Worm. Max knows he must get Worm to her father somehow, but she says he is a thousand miles away in Chivalry, Montana. When they discover the police are watching the bus station, Max decides they’ll have to hitchhike.

A teacher-turned-hippie called Dip stops his brightly colored bus and invites the kids to join him. He doesn’t press them for personal information, and they enjoy traveling with the free-spirited man. A few days into the journey, Dip helps a man and his wife who claim they’ve been robbed.

Frank and Joanie travel with the kids and Dip, but Max and Worm feel uncomfortable with their new companions and the dubious information they provide about themselves. Frank uses the kids to scam a convenience store clerk. Later, the kids discover Frank has seen a warrant for Max’s arrest and has reported the boy for the reward money. Dip urges the kids to get away as police cars approach. He promises to find them later.

Max and Worm run as far as they can. They hop a cargo train, where they meet a hobo named Joe. He gets them food at different stops and shows them where to change trains. When the kids finally arrive in Chivalry, Max is surprised to see an abandoned mining town. Worm goes into a mining tunnel and calls out to her dad. Max learns that Worm’s father was one of 67 miners who died in a tragic mining disaster some years earlier.

The kids crouch silently in the mine when they hear a police siren. An officer’s voice urges anyone who may be inside to come out. They peek out and see the Undertaker in the passenger seat of the police car. The kids venture further into the mine, with the officer and Undertaker behind them. When they begin to feel hopeless about finding an escape route, they decide to pray. Then they hear a horrible roaring sound and find a tunnel leading them from the mine to Dip’s bus. In the bus with Dip is Max’s grandfather.

The Undertaker catches up to them, and Worm runs into the mine once more. Max goes after her and tries to convince her not to do anything stupid. He sees the light on the miner’s hat plunging into a mine shaft and thinks she has jumped. Then he hears her say she is giving her dad back his light, so he can find his way in the dark like she did.

Worm and Max promise to be friends for life. As they’re leaving the mine, they hear the Undertaker calling out. He has been pinned under a beam. Max wants to leave him there, but he knows he’s the only one who can save him. He blacks out after he rescues the Undertaker.

Max wakes up in the hospital with a broken leg and shoulder and learns Dip and Grim dug him out of the rubble. Having overheard Worm and her stepfather in the mine, the police officer knows the Undertaker is a fraud. Worm’s mom decides to testify against her husband. After the Undertaker goes to jail, Max’s grandmother invites Worm and her mother to live with them. Max is pleased to have gained a little sister.

Christian Beliefs

The Undertaker claims to know the “truth with a capital T.” He carries a Bible around with him but never quotes from it. Max says it looks more like he plans to hit people with it. The Undertaker tells Worm’s mom if she runs from him, she’s running from the Lord. He talks about punishing sinners as he prepares to give Worm a beating.

Max doesn’t normally pray, but he decides to try when they can’t get a ride to Montana. He promises God he will try to improve things by feeding people and helping save the planet. He says it probably doesn’t count as a miracle, but when he opens his eyes, a hippie bus pulls up and offers them a ride.

The kids ponder whether people really go to heaven when they die. They both hope it’s true. When the kids are hiding from the police and the Undertaker in the mine, they decide they should pray. They get on their knees and fold their hands. Worm seems to find peace in praying, and Max thanks God they have the miner’s hat to give them light. Dip later mentions answered prayers about the kids being found, and Worm smiles as though she has a secret.

Other Belief Systems

Max avoids cracks in the sidewalk because he needs luck. Dip does Tai Chi stretches, and Max thinks it looks beautiful and peaceful. In calmer moments on the road trip, Max ponders whether there is magic in the world like the magic Worm reads about in her books. When they need their last match to light, Worm makes up a magic spell. After she says it, they strike the match, and it lights. Max says he doesn’t know if he believes in magic, but he wonders if magic believes in him.

Authority Roles

Worm’s stepfather physically abuses her and her mother. Worm’s mom lies to the police out of fear. Max’s dad is in jail for killing his mom. Max’s grandparents are kindhearted people who support him and believe in his innocence. They invite Worm and her mom to live with them. Dip cares enough for the kids to track down Max’s grandfather and come to their rescue in Montana.


The Lord's name is used in vain once. Butt, heck and crap appear a time or two. A gangbanger calls Max maxi pad and retard. A police officer also uses the term retarded. Max sees the Undertaker beat up on Worm’s mom and prepare to punish Worm


Worm gives Max a quick kiss for luck.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Frank and Joanie are con artists who lie about everything. Worm notes that people like Frank lie so much, they don’t even know what the truth is anymore. The Undertaker tells police Max hurt Worm’s mother and kidnapped Worm. Worm’s mom lies to protect her husband, because she’s afraid of him. Dip tries to protect Max and Worm by telling police they are his grandkids.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 15


Rodman Philbrick






Record Label



Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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