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An excerpt from the sequel
to "Freak the Mighty"

Read our interview with author Rod Philbrick
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Max book cover Max the Mighty (excerpt)
By Rodman Philbrick

Chapter One:
The Whole Weird World

My name is Maxwell Kane and the thing you should know about me is this: even though I'm a big dude with a face like the moon and ears that stick out like radar scoops and humungous feet like the abdominal snowman, inside I'm a real weenie. A yellow-bellied sap sucker. A gigantic wuss. A coward.

I'll do just about anything to avoid a fight. I'm scared if I hit somebody they might stay hurt forever, or worse. And then they'd haul me off to prison and everybody would say what did you expect, the boy is a bad apple just like his jailbird father.

Okay, maybe I am a little weird, but if you really think about it everybody is weird. That's the truth, and if you don't believe it then maybe you better listen up while I tell you about me and the Bookworm and what happened when the whole weird world was out to get us. *

It started like this. One day after school gets out I'm kind of moping along, minding my own business. Taking the long way home because there's nothing to do when I get there, so why hurry? I'm making sure not to step on any cracks and my brain is telling me don't be such a moron, it doesn't matter about cracks in the sidewalk. But my feet won't listen and they keep being careful, because you never know about cracks, do you?

Get a life, my brain says.

That's when I hear the girl screaming. She's not saying anything, just screaming so loud it puts a shiver in my bones. It makes me freeze up and not move and wish I could be invisible, or at least small. It makes me wish I could turn my ears off like you switch off a radio, and not hear anything. Most of all I want to run away and hide somewhere safe.

Because you can tell from the scream that somebody wants to hurt her.

Chapter Two:
A Girl Called Worm

The girl keeps screaming and my brain is going, mind your own business. Somebody else can help her, not you.

But there isn't anybody else and the screaming doesn't stop and before I know it my stupid feet start running over the cracks in the sidewalk, taking me closer and closer to trouble.

When I get to the corner of the block, I see this gang banger messing around in the middle of the street. He's strutting around on with his hands behind his back and he's got this sneering expression like he knows a really funny joke and you'll never get it.

"Keep screaming," he says. "Nobody cares."

The scream is coming from this skinny red-haired girl who's maybe eleven or twelve years old. She's got bright green eyes and freckles and her clothes are about two sizes too big and she's screaming bloody murder even though nobody's touching her.

"You big creep!" shouts the red-haired girl. "Lunk head! Bug brain! Give it back!"

"Louder," the gang banger says. "I can't hear you."

Then he catches sight of me, and his grin gets wider and wider. "What do you know," he says. "Dinosaur boy to the rescue. I thought I felt the ground shaking."

Before I can stop my mouth from saying something stupid it goes, "Huh?"

The gang banger loves it. "Huh?" he says. "Is that dinosaur talk for 'I'm retarded'?"

That's when I notice the skinny red-haired girl is staring at me. It's not a friendly kind of stare - she probably thinks I'm one of the gang-bangers, or maybe a retard like he says.

I go,"Leave her alone."

"Take it easy, Maxi Pad. We're just having a little fun," the gang banger says. "You got a problem with that?"

The girl shakes her fist at him and goes, "Give it back or else."

The gang banger looks at her puny little fist and smirks. "Oooh," he goes. "You gonna hit me?" Then he dances around, taunting her, and I see he's got hold of this small green back pack. A girl's back pack, for carrying school stuff.

"Give it back to her," I say.

He crosses his eyes and makes an oink-oink noise. "Pig boy," he says. "You better go home to granny."

I try to grab it but he darts away, his teeth flashing white because he's having such a good time. "Moron Max," he laughs. "You're scaring me."

The red-haired girl makes a move but she can't touch him.

"Bookworm bookworm, ugly little bookworm," he chants.

"Shut up!" she says. She's so mad her eyes look like they're full of green electricity.

"Worm girl!" the gang banger cackles. "Whattaya have in here, worm food? Is that it?"

He opens up her back pack and roots around inside with this totally mean look on his face. Then he goes, "Whoa! What have we here?"

He pulls out a couple of paperback books and tosses them over his shoulder. Pages scatter and blow away like white leaves.

"Oh, you're real tough," the girl says. "You can beat up a book. I bet you never even read a book."

Then the gang banger whistles and pulls something else out of the back pack. A hard plastic helmet with a light on the front, like miners wear so they can see in the dark.

"Don't you dare touch that!" the girl shouts. Then she goes mental and tries to grab the miner's helmet.

He grins and ducks away. "Finder's keepers!" he shouts. "Losers weepers!"

But Worm isn't weeping, she's going nuts. Jumping up and crying and trying to grab the helmet. He keeps dancing away, laughing in her face.

I wait my chance, and when he isn't looking I get behind him and lift the helmet off his head.

"Hey!" he bellows.

But I hold the miner's helmet up high and he can't reach it.

"Gimme that," he says, "or I'll punch your lights out."

"Try it."

The gang banger curls up his fists and sets up on his feet like a boxer and for a moment I think he really is going to punch me. Then he looks at the girl and he looks at me and he spits on the ground by my feet.

"Who cares about your stupid junk," he says, and saunters away like he couldn't care less. Like he's the coolest dude in the whole wide world because he ripped up a book and scared an eleven-year-old girl.

The girl has eyes like green laser beams and this fierce loo on her freckled face, like she thinks I'm the enemy, too.

I go, "Here," and give her the helmet.

The way she holds it in her hands, you know it means something special.

"What's it for?" I ask.

"None of your business," she says. And then she hugs the scratched-up old helmet to her chest and runs away, her thick red hair flying up like it wants to wave goodbye.

My brain didn't know it yet, but that's when trouble really started, the day I met a girl called Worm.

© 1998-99 Rodman Philbrick
Reprinted by permission of the author
All rights reserved

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Max the Mighty
Reviews on Amazon.com

Click Here to order the book in hardcover.
Click Here to order the book in paperback.

Max book cover From Kirkus Reviews , February 15, 1998
In this sequel to Freak the Mighty (1993), Max, the freakishly gigantic child, comes to the rescue of Rachel, called Worm because of her devotion to books. When he takes her away from her abusive stepfather, the Und, Max is accused of kidnapping, and the two embark on a cross-country odyssey to find her real father. Pursued by police and the vengeful Undertaker, they make their way to Montana, where Worm's father was killed years before in a mine disaster and where they face a final confrontation with the Undertaker in the depths of the mine. While the book is populated by stock characters from central casting (an aging hippie in a '60s-style bus, a train-hopping hobo with a heart of gold, a pair of charming con artists, and, of course, the evil Undertaker), Philbrick avoids making it into a cartoon. The story moves along at a good clip, the friendship between Max and Worm is warm, and the other characters give the proceedings a touch of melodrama. Despite Max's certainty that happy endings don't happen, everything is tied up satisfyingly at the end.
(Fiction. 10-14) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Horn Book
Maxwell Kane, the guileless, oversized hero of Freak the Mighty , who is in imminent danger of being abused by her creepy stepfather. Impulsively, Max kidnaps her, and the two set out to find her real father on a journey that leads them across the country to Chivalry, Montana. Philbrick uses Arthurian imagery, much as he did in the earlier novel, to underscore the theme. "It's all about fighting for honor and protecting the innocent and never giving up even if the whole world is against you," Worm says, describing a book she's reading about the knights of the round table. The world does seem to bear them a grudge: they are attacked by wild dogs and betrayed by a couple of con artists during their travels. But they find friends, too, who offer them food and shelter and usher them to their final destination. The characters and plot sometimes threaten to stretch the reader's sense of reality to its limits. Worm's villainous stepfather-"a street crazy with a mean streak"-for example, dresses in black, is called the Undertaker, and drives a rusty old hearse. And except for the two protagonists, the characters seem more colorful than fully fleshed out. But the two who matter the most grab your attention and engage your heart. A poignant figure, Worm is less outlandish than Max, and her surprising revelations at the end about her father have a logical consistency to them. When it's all over and Max is vindicated, his insistence that the "unvanquished truth" is that he will never be normal holds unexpected layers of meaning. -
Copyright © 1998 The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved.

Synopsis
This is the dramatic, heartwrenching tale of Max and Worm, two outsiders who turn to each other for survival. Written in a haunting yet uplifting first-person voice, this compelling novel is destined to become a classic. --This text refers to the paperback edition of this title

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Rod Philbrick on Amazon.com
on Max the Mighty

The author, Rodman Philbrick e-mail:
philbrick@earthlink.net , September 8, 1998
Author comments on 'Max The Mighty'

After writing the last line of 'Freak The Mighty', I assumed that would be the last I'd hear from Maxwell Kane, who narrates the book. But then a funny thing happened. I started getting letters from young readers who had ideas for sequels. Most of their ideas were continuations of 'Freak The Mighty', or 'improvements' to make the ending happier. Others went far afield. One story even ended up on the moon. Talk about inventive imaginations! I realized I'd better write a sequel before someone beat me to it. A couple of years went by, and then out of the blue I got the idea for a character who was as avid a reader as the kids who had been writing to me. Worm, short for 'Bookworm'. She carries her books in a backpack, reads even while walking, and uses a miner's light to illuminate the page at night. And when she gets in trouble there's only one person she can turn to - Maxwell Kane, who once walked high above the world with his best friend Kevin, slaying dragons and rescuing fair maidens. Worm thinks Max is some kind of hero. Max thinks the idea is total baloney. "Me a hero? You must be cracked!" And that's where the fun - and the adventure - start. I don't know if 'Max The Mighty' is better or worse than 'Freak The Mighty', but I'm sure my readers will let me know.

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