Friday, July 9, 2010

Childhood Favorites Post #4: Remembering with Freak the Mighty

"Remembering is a great invention of the mind," so says Kevin in the young adult novel Freak the Mighty. The whole concept of memory is fascinating to me, and I tend to write about it every time that it comes up in a book.

Freak the Mighty is a story of friendship, of hardship, of transcendence.  The characters in this book go through so much, that it is hard to believe that most of my students read it in elementary school. Max lives with his grandparents because his father is in jail for killing his mother.  He considers himself stupid and is in learning disabled classes at school.  People are frightened of him because of his father, how much he looks at him and how large of a person he is.  Kevin has just moved in to his block with his mom. He has a disease that has left him crippled and sick, but is absolutely brilliant.  The two form an unlikely friendship and dub themselves "Freak the Mighty."

"You don't need a time machine if you know how to remember," says Kevin in a theoretical conversation between the boys about recalling what he has learned about the ice age in reference to an imaginary game they are playing.  What he doesn't realize is how weighty this will become for Max. Kevin is wise beyond his years and knows how sick he is.  As much as his friendship with Max has changed him, he is aware that Max will have to move forward without him in the future.  The greatest gift that Kevin offered Max in their friendship was the use of imagination and the reminder of how memories can give strength.  What is so smart about Philbrick's writing, is that he writes in Max's voice throughout the book--Max who hated school, Max who had no confidence in his intellectual ability--and only at the end do you realize that Kevin asked him to write down their story.  At the end of the book it is incredible to "witness" how Max rose above all of his challenges to accomplish this and to see how the memory of his friendship with Kevin empowered him to do so.

And so, yes, remembering is a great invention of the mind.  And even though we all have things we wish we could forget, we also have the store of memories that remind us of who we really are and the things we really love...and those are the memories that give us the strength to move forward as changed people.

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