What can we say about Max that he hasn't already said about himself? He calls himself a butthead, a hulk, dumb, brainless, a moron, a butthead a few more times, a goon… should we go on? This kid has serious self-esteem issues. Sure, he's an angsty teen, but his problems go much deeper than that.
When we first meet Max, he refuses to make a connection with anyone. He distances himself from his grandparents, both emotionally and physically, retreating to the down under whenever he gets upset: "I like it in the down under, got the place all to myself and no fear of Gram sticking her head in the door" (2.1). Is he really that annoyed with his grandparents? Or is he hiding from something else?
This is a tough one, so get yourself seated and break out the tissues.
Max saw his mother murdered when he was a young boy. And even though he was only four, he vividly remembers all of the details:
"You were wearing your brown corduroy trousers […] You locked me in that room and I ran to the window and broke it with my hand and started yelling for someone to come help Mommy." (20.17)
It's no wonder this tragic event completely changes Max's life. He becomes really withdrawn, and, until Freak comes along, he never has any friends. In fact, he won't even get close with his grandparents who he now lives with. Is it possible that Max doesn't want to get close to anyone for fear of losing them?
Max can't seem to escape his past, that's for sure. And the fact that he looks just like his murderer father doesn't help. Everyone Max meets—Loretta, the police, Gwen, Iggy—tells him he reminds them of someone (read: his dad), and Max hates it. After all, as Max puts it, this is a man who "happens to be in prison […] and the bigger I grow the more I look like my old man, the worse it gets" (5.39). It's hard enough having a dad who's in prison, but Max is constantly reminded of it because he looks just like the guy.
He may look like his dad, but we learn very quickly that he's nothing like him. As Grim says, he may have his dad's appearance, but he has his mother's heart. Sure, Max is a kicker, but when it comes down to it, he treats people with respect and he knows how to love unconditionally.
Freak's friendship clearly does a lot for Max, bringing him out from the down under and into the world for quests and adventures. But we here at Shmoop think that Freak's death affects him even more than their initial friendship.
Think about it: Max's number one goal throughout his life has been to hide. He hides in the down under, even avoiding interaction with his own family. When Freak comes along, that doesn't change all that much. At school, Max lets Freak deal with the questions, even when he knows the answer. When Mrs. Donelli asks Max a question and Freak responds, she says,
"Yes, Kevin, and I'm sure you're correct because you're always correct, but for a change I'd really like to hear Maxwell speak for himself." (13.4)
But Max is totally fine with this arrangement. He wants to keep his head down and draw as little attention to himself as possible.
And then Freak dies.
It's like losing his mother all over again, and for a while, he continues hiding. But slowly Max begins to emerge. And by the end of the novel, Max has written an entire book by himself. And it looks like there's more on the horizon:
And now that I've written a book who knows, I might even read a few. No big deal. (19-20)
No big deal? We think not. Even though Freak is no longer around, he helped Max find the confidence to stop hiding.