While Philbrick has indicated that Freak the Mighty was to be set in and around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he went to high school, the larger geographical location plays almost no part in the book. There are not, for example, distinctive weather, flora, or accents. Instead, two general categories provide all the settings for the action: social settings (especially domestic settings) and imaginary settings.
The first social setting is a series of snapshots of day care or school encounters between Kevin and Max. The main setting initially explored is Max’s basement bedroom, which is as much a cave or a refuge as it is a bedroom. The paneled walls buckle, but “down under” is a place for Max to hide away from an unfriendly world. It is a run-down and depressing place, but it is at least his own. Except for Kevin’s house, the other social/domestic settings are even more depressing. When the boys visit the New Tenements (called the “New Testaments”), it is a sad and broken environment, one where people have no hope. Max’s father takes him to an old woman’s home, where they are intruders, and then to the filthy basement of a burned-out building. The conclusion is clear: in the world of Freak the Mighty, most homes are symbols of the torn and crippled families that live in them. The larger social settings, such as the school, town, or hospital, are not always as depressing, but they are just as threatening and violent. Max never knows when a gang of thugs will threaten him or when an entire school classroom will start making fun of him. Here too the novel gives clear messages through its settings: communities are not always welcoming, and they will violently reject you if you are different.
The main exception to this comes when Max is with Kevin and the two boys escape into imaginary settings. Just as Kevin dreams of an escape into a bionic body free of pain, so the boys change a threatening town into a landscape for adventure. The imaginary settings are what make the world portrayed in Freak the Mighty livable.