Study Guide

Freak the Mighty

by Rodman Philbrick

Freak the Mighty Summary

Introduction

Freak the Mighty

Kevin is brilliant, but his body is so crippled by birth defects that he has to wear braces on his legs. Max is huge and powerful, but he has been so scarred by life that he feels dumb and worthless. Independently, each boy seems like half a person, but when they meet the summer before eighth grade starts, they join together, becoming inseparable friends as Freak the Mighty.

The novel Freak the Mighty tells the story of one defining year in the boys’ lives. It follows them through their first meeting, their summer adventures, their return to school, and even Max’s Christmas Eve kidnapping at the hands of his murderous father. Although the boys are eventually reunited, their happiness cannot last forever. Kevin’s health problems worsen, leading to his death and the end of Freak the Mighty. A devastated Max learns how to face the world without his best friend.

Full of what could be trite or maudlin subject matter—a learning-disabled narrator, a physically challenged boy, a convict father—Freak the Mighty integrates every element smoothly and naturally. The result is a charming, funny blend of realism and fairy-tale dreaming that in the end is very moving.

Freak the Mighty Summary

Max and Kevin met for the first time when they were both in day care. Max was an angry kid called Kicker because he kicked everyone, while Kevin called himself Robot Man because of the leg braces he had to wear. Then Kevin stopped coming to day care, and the boys lost contact until they saw one another briefly in third grade.

The summer before eighth grade, Kevin and his mother moved in next door to Max’s grandparents’ house, where he lived in the basement. The boys meet again when Max helps Kevin get his mechanical bird from the tree where it is stuck. The two boys become friends, and the two families start visiting back and forth.

On the Fourth of July, the boys are on their way to see the fireworks when they run into Tony D. and his gang of teenage thugs. Kevin teases them, and the situation potentially turns dangerous until a police car shows up. The boys have a great time watching the fireworks, with Kevin sitting on Max’s shoulders, but as the crowd breaks up, Tony D. and his friends find them again. Kevin guides Max as the pair runs away, leaving Tony and his gang stranded in a muddy pond.

Max’s grandparents are happy that Max was there to help Kevin (though Max knows it was really Kevin whose quick mind helped him). This starts a happy and extended partnership between the two boys. Every morning Kevin comes over to rouse Max, who carries Kevin all over town. They have imaginary quests, such as looking for dragons, and as they do, Kevin encourages Max to think, dream, and read. On one of these quests, Kevin guides Max to the hospital’s medical research building, claiming that the hospital staff is developing robot bodies and when they are ready Kevin’s identity will be transplanted into one.

Their quests become real one morning when Kevin arranges for Max to get up at 3 a.m. and dress all in black. Kevin then guides Max to a sewer grate where a purse has fallen. They return it to the owner the next day, which means going into the tenement housing on the far side of the pond, a poor and crime-ridden place. The purse’s owner, Loretta Lee, lives with Iggy Lee, head of a local motorcycle gang. The adults tease the boys a bit and talk to them; they recognize Max because he looks so much like his father, Kenny “Killer” Kane, who is currently in...

(The entire section is 937 words.)

Freak the Mighty Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1 and 2 Summary

In the summer before their eighth grade year, Freak moves in down the block from the house where Max lives with his maternal grandparents, whom he affectionately calls “Grim” and “Gram.” Max had met Freak in daycare a long time ago, but his memories of the past are confused. As Freak says:

Remembering is a great invention of the mind, and if you try hard enough you can remember anything, whether it really happened or not.

Max recalls that back then, he had had a reputation for “booting anyone who dared to touch” him. Having just been taken in by Grim and Gram, he had been an angry child who quickly earned the nickname “Kicker.” Max remembers that Freak had not attended daycare regularly; when he did show up, he got around on crutches or with “shiny braces strapped to his crooked legs.” Little Freak would pretend that he was Robot Man and quickly made it clear to everyone that despite his small stature, he was not someone to “mess with.”

Max does not recollect seeing Freak again after daycare until “like...the third grade or something,” when he caught a glimpse of “this yellow-haired kid scowling at [him] from one of those cripple vans.” By that time, Mad Max, as he was most commonly called, had a variety of nicknames; ironically, the name he hated most was his real name, Maxwell. Max had once overheard his grandparents whispering about how much “Maxwell was getting to look like Him.” He knows that Grim and Gram were talking about his father, whom they referred to as if his name was “too scary to say.”

Grim has built a small room in the basement, which Max calls his “own private down under.” Even though he describes himself as “this critter hiding out in the basement, drooling in [his] comic books,” Max actually enjoys having a room of his own where he can escape the scrutiny of others. Max does not think of himself as...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Chapters 3 and 4 Summary

In the dim down under, Max thinks about “this crippled little humanoid” who has just reentered his life, and after a while he goes back outside to “check [things] out.” Max finds Freak standing under a tree behind his new home, furiously trying to jump up and hit a branch with his crutch. Frustrated, the little boy crawls over under the steps and laboriously pulls out a standard American Flyer red wagon. When he gets it under the tree, he climbs up and “whacks” at the branch again, but he still cannot reach whatever it is he is trying to get.

Max notices that there is a “small, bright-colored thing...like a piece of folded paper” in the tree and goes over to get it down. Staying clear of the flailing crutch, he offers the “bird-thing” to Freak, who happily explains that it is “an ornithopter...an experimental device propelled by flapping wings.” Max, who does not understand half the words the little boy is using, is amazed at how smart Freak is. Freak winds up the elastic band that propels the mechanical bird and lets it go, and Max chases it and brings it back; the two boys continue in this activity until the elastic breaks after almost an hour. Freak then amiably asks Max, “You live around here, earthling?” In response, Max points to Grim and Gram’s house and mentions the down under. Picking up the handle of the wagon, he tows Freak over; Freak sits up in the wagon, “happy as can be.”

Freak “hump[s] down the stairs” to the cellar by himself, but the effort leaves him short of breath. He is impressed with Max’s living quarters. When Max explains about Grim and Gram, he notes that “Grim” must be “a sobriquet for [Max’s] grandfather, based on his demeanor.” This is too much for Max, who clearly does not understand what his new friend is talking about. Freak merrily apologizes for his vocabulary and explains that “sobriquet means ‘nickname,’ and demeanor means...

(The entire section is 615 words.)

Chapters 5 and 6 Summary

After the Fair Gwen runs off precipitously with Freak, Max goes back to the down under and lies under his bed, where it is

cool and empty...[and] you don’t have to think about anything... you’re not even there.

He is soon interrupted by Gram, who knocks on his door and says she has just had a call from Gwen Avery, who wants to apologize to him. Gwen had been stunned to see how big Max has gotten and thinks she may have offended him by her reaction. Gram explains that Gwen had been a good friend of Max’s mother. She is “delighted” to know that he and her son, Kevin, are going to be friends and has invited him over for dinner.

Max, who really is “bigger than most people,” asks if he has to accept the invitation, and Gram responds gently that it would be “the right thing to do.” She tells Max that it was not him who scared Freak’s mother—but when Max asks, “Then who was it?” Gram evades the question and says she will “leave that to Gwen.”

Dinner with Freak and his mother turns out to be “not so bad” after all. Gwen talks a mile a minute, telling Max that she remembers him as a baby, when she and his mother and their group had been living over in the tenements. Freak bluntly mentions the growing resemblance between Max and his father, who is in prison, and Gwen looks uncomfortable. When Max asks Gwen if she had known his father personally, Gwen says, “Not very well.... He made it...difficult for your mother to have friends.”

The Fair Gwen makes hot dogs and potato salad, and everyone eats on paper plates outside in the backyard. Freak tells funny stories, and Max laughs so hard he chokes on his hot dog and ends up trying to sneeze it through his nose. Max has a great time and marvels at how happy he is when he goes back to the down under. To his surprise, however, when he lies on his bed, he is “crying like a baby.”

...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Chapters 7 and 8 Summary

With Freak still on his shoulders, Max heads over to the food carts when the fireworks are over. Freak marvels at the “amazing perspective” he gets on the world from sitting up so high, then he suddenly warns Max that Blade and his gang are coming after them. He directs his friend to an escape route with his little feet “like he’s digging into a horse.” Max runs at a full gallop through the crowd, but eventually Blade and his punks surround them. Not knowing what to do, Max looks to Freak to make a decision, and Freak comes through, pushing Max to run right over one of Blade’s smaller gang members and straight into the millpond.

The mud at the bottom of the pond is “really oozy and deep,” but Max just...

(The entire section is 616 words.)

Chapters 9 and 10 Summary

Freak and Max travel all over the neighborhood and beyond that summer, with Freak riding high on Max’s shoulders and using his little feet to steer. As they journey, Freak makes up stories that seem so real Max sometimes forgets where he actually is. One day, as they head off “yonder,” which “always lies over the next horizon,” Freak directs Max to an especially distant destination he calls “the Fortress.” It turns out that the Fortress is a new building added to the back of a hospital; the sign over the door of this building says “MEDICAL RESEARCH.”

Swearing Max to secrecy, Freak excitedly tells him that studies are being conducted at this location “to develop a new form of bionic robot for human...

(The entire section is 610 words.)

Chapters 11 and 12 Summary

Freak and Max discover that Loretta Lee lives in the New Tenements, a seedy establishment irreverently dubbed the “New Testaments.” Max has specifically been forbidden to go there. Freak convinces him that since they are on a quest it will be all right to disobey in this case, so the boys venture into the neighborhood, a “big, falling-apart place with a bunch of apartments” that look “busted up” and sad.

When they find the address, Freak begins to “reconsider this particular quest” because the environment is so dismal, but Max hesitates, and the apartment door is opened by a slovenly, “scrawny, yellow-haired woman.” After cussing them out, the woman calls loudly to her companion, “Iggy, come here...

(The entire section is 663 words.)

Chapters 13 and 14 Summary

By October, everything seems to be going well at school for Max and Freak. The two of them are “like this unit”; Max helps Freak get around everywhere by carrying him on his shoulders, and Freak assists Max with his schoolwork. The arrangement is producing surprisingly positive results. If Max does not know an answer, Freak tells him what it is “in a way he can understand.” Max’s reading skills tutor is amazed with his progress, and his regular teachers find that if they do not require him to speak in front of the class but instead test him in a one-on-one setting, he can usually provide the proper responses, which proves he is quite capable of learning.

On Friday the thirteenth of that month, however, two...

(The entire section is 599 words.)

Chapters 15 and 16 Summary

Freak and the Fair Gwen spend Christmas Eve with Max, Grim, and Gram. After a wonderful supper and time spent listening to Grim tell stories about Christmases when he was a kid, everyone gathers to open gifts. Grim receives a woolly sweater from Gram, and Gram gets a bracelet made of shells from Max. Max gives Freak a thoughtfully chosen “gizmo” made up of “a whole bunch of little screwdrivers and wrenches and even a magnifying glass.” Gram gives the Fair Gwen a beautiful, dark red scarf that matches the blouse she is wearing. Finally, when it is Max’s turn to open a gift, he chooses the one from Freak.

The gift to Max from Freak, of course, is unique, packed in a pyramid-shaped box covered with the Sunday...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Chapters 17 and 18 Summary

Iggy takes Max and his father down a back alley to another apartment whose door has been “busted in.” He explains that it belongs to an “old bat” who is away visiting her sister for the holidays. When Iggy leaves, Kenny Kane sits Max down so they can talk “man to man.”

Kenny tells Max he understands that “a boy who don’t know his own father might be dumb enough to run away.” He then ties Max’s feet and hands, looping the end of the rope around his own waist so he will be alerted if Max should try to escape. Kenny then goes to sleep, advising Max that he should do the same, but a little while later, he wakes Max to assert again that he “never killed anybody.” He then asks his son if Grim and Gram...

(The entire section is 581 words.)

Chapters 19 and 20 Summary

Max’s father decides that they will hide out in an abandoned building on the other side of the alley until Iggy gets them a car. The inside of the building, which has been gutted by fire, is “black and wet and dripping,” and the stairs to the basement are rotting away. Killer Kane forces Max down the treacherous steps and ties him up agains “this old busted-up boiler.” He then puts a gag around his mouth so he cannot call for help and slips back up the stairs.

Left alone, Max attempts to get loose from his bonds, but his hands are swollen from the tightness of the ropes, and he is unsuccessful. After awhile, he hears someone on the steps and is much relieved when Loretta Lee appears with a flashlight. Loretta...

(The entire section is 638 words.)

Chapters 21 and 22 Summary

Things are quite chaotic in the aftermath of Max’s kidnapping and the capture of Killer Kane. Max has to spend a great deal of time at the police station, telling his story over and over. Everyone says that this time “they’ve got Killer Kane where they want him”; the list of his latest violations is long and grave. Loretta Lee was “hurt pretty bad,” but although Kane broke a bone in her neck, her prognosis is good and it looks like she will be all right.

Gram will no longer let Max sleep in the down under, and the Fair Gwen “just about [throws] a fit” when it is all over because Freak had disobeyed a “direct order” in sneaking out to rescue Max. She feels especially anxious about the whole thing and...

(The entire section is 653 words.)

Chapters 23-25 Summary

Although he cannot visit Freak the next day, Max goes to the hospital anyway. He runs into the Fair Gwen, who greets him tearfully. Gwen tells Max that Freak wants to see him despite the fact that he is not allowed visitors. Because Freak is so insistent, Dr. Spivak has given permission for Max to see him for a little while.

Max is surprised when the Fair Gwen takes him into the intensive care unit at the regular hospital instead of the Medical Research Building in the back. Freak looks very small on the bed, and he has a hole in his throat that allows him to breathe. Although his voice is faint and “whistly,” he seems to be as sassy as ever—but when Max asks when he will be coming home, Freak gravely responds,...

(The entire section is 673 words.)