Freak the Mighty
by Rodman Philbrick
"The young man is a genius," Grim is saying. "And I don't use that word lightly." (15.28)
Neither do we, Grim. But we're pretty sure that's just what Freak is: a genius.
Freak is a freak for robotics and engineering, of course, but he's also a word nerd—just like Shmoop. And how exactly does Freak know so many words? Simple: he reads. He loves reading and words so much that he actually makes his own personal dictionary. Think we're exaggerating? Check out the appendix of the book to see what we're talking about.
Lucky for Max, Freak isn't the evil genius type. No, he's a benevolent leader and is willing to share his massive intellect with Max. And as much as Max has trouble learning, Freak seems to change that: "If I don't know, then Freak will tell me and he'll say it in a way I can understand" (13.5), he says.
But Freak is clearly more than just his huge brain.
The Best Things Come in Small Packages
In fact, Freak is a tiny little guy compared to his massive intellect. Just like Max has to deal with looking like his dad, Freak is also judged by his appearance.
Freak is only about three feet tall, and he has to walk with crutches. As a result, people continually underestimate him and feel sorry for him. Even Max originally describes Freak as a "crippled-up yellow haired midget" (2.8). Not exactly the nicest thing to say about your friend.
But unlike Max, Freak doesn't let it bother him. He ignores the stares and comments and continues to be the person he wants to be: going on quests, dressing up like Darth Vader, and treating the world like one big adventure.
Why do you think Max and Freak have such different reactions to the way the world views them?
Grab Life by the Horns
While Max is content to while away the hours staring into space or "drooling over comics," Freak is all about carpe diem: seize the day. And Max goes along with it because it's more fun than being alone in the down under:
Each and every morning the little dude humps himself over and he bangs on the bulkhead […] "Get outta bed, you lazy beast! There are fair maidens to rescue! Dragons to slay!" (8.18)
Could it be that Freak is so intent on living life to the fullest because he doesn't have very much life left to live? Freak knows he's sick, but he's still the most hopeful character in the novel. He creates his own world in which instead of dying, he's just waiting for a robotic transplant. His world is so convincing, in fact, that Max never thinks to question it (even though he has questioned Freak's other stories: "Treasure in the sewer? What kind of quest is this, huh? Is Freak completely making this up or what?" [10.28]).
Why is Freak's story so convincing to Max, a character who seems to have lost all hope?
The Death of Freak the Mighty
It's not often that a protagonist passes away in a YA novel, huh? But Rodman Philbrick doesn't spare us any emotion. Freak dies in the middle of the night, and his death has powerful effects for many of the characters. Gwen moves away because she can't stand to be in her house anymore, and even Blade tries to make peace with Max (which, by the way, doesn't go very well).
But Max seems to be hit the hardest—maybe because he had no idea it was coming. And we have to ask: why didn't Freak tell Max he was sick? Did he do it because it gave him something to hope for? Was he secretly wishing that maybe he'd be cured? Or do you think he was trying to protect Max? Would Max have even been his friend if he knew he was sick, or would he have worried about losing another person he loved?
So many questions! But one thing is clear: Freak's final gift, the blank journal, shows Max the way out from the down under. Looks like even death can't stop Freak from looking out for his best friend.