Freak the Mighty



Outcasts join forces to conquer readers' hearts.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The novel deals with series issues such as mental and physical disabilities with heart and humor.

Positive role models

The main characters disobey their parents and go to a dangerous area.


A gang member attacks the two main characters, and a man strangles two characters. A main character is kidnapped and nearly killed by his own father.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that one main character has a learning disability and lives with his grandparents because his father was put in prison for murdering his mother. He and his best friend, who is disabled and uses crutches to walk, also endure cruel and emotionally painful treatment at school from their fellow students for being "different." Despite the inherent seriousness of these themes, kids will enjoy the funny writing, quirky and likable characters, high imagination, and suspense. The book also includes a humorous dictionary.

What's the story?

A hulking "retard" and a brilliant, crippled boy become strong as they undertake imaginary quests and fight all-too-real criminals. The only thing they can't conquer is time. Max knows that people -- even his own grandparents -- fear him because he looks just like his imprisoned father, who's known as Killer Kane. He's huge, he can hardly read or write, and he lives in his grandparents' basement.

But his new neighbor, Kevin, in his tiny, deformed body, seems willing to accept him. The two become close friends, assuming a new identity when Max begins carrying Kevin on his shoulders. Kevin dubs them Freak the Mighty, and they wander their town using Max's mobility and Kevin's brain to conjure up exciting quests. With Kevin's help, Max learns to read and is allowed out of his special-education classes to join Max in his honors courses. But when Max's father is paroled, Max relives the horrors of his past, while Kevin tries to rescue him.

Is it any good?


Funny, scary, suspenseful, and wise, this book can help young readers accept kids who seem different from them. When you don't fit in, and you're a kid, what do you do? Max just suffers alone, compressing his emotions inside his massive body. Kevin fights back by letting his intelligence and his imagination soar beyond his deformed body. Even if he can't save himself, Kevin can save Max. He teaches Max how to use his imagination to create exciting adventures: Houses become castles, swimming pools become moats, and a hardboiled motorcycle mama becomes a damsel in distress. And he teaches readers compassion and that everyone is valuable and has something to contribute.

Through Kevin's courage in the face of his illness, readers learn the importance of not giving up when faced with difficulty, and they witness how Kevin inspires Max's progress. Kevin uses his vocabulary as a weapon and teaches Max how to use the dictionary, his favorite book. Max says that Kevin "pulls it out like Arnold Schwarzenegger pulling out a machine gun or something." Thus the character instills in real kids the power of words.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Max and Freak have been affected by cruel and relentless teasing from their classmates.

  • Are Max's criticisms about his brain accurate?

  • How does Freak help him see himself in a different light?

  • For kids, have you ever teased someone who was different?

  • If so, did you feel bad about it later -- and what did you do to make it right?

Book details

Author:Rodman Philbrick
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Inc.
Publication date:January 1, 1993
Number of pages:169
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 6 and 8 year old Written byReverendDad October 4, 2010

4-year old witnesses dad strangle mom, then dad attacks him later... Hey kids, bedtime story???

Who are the parents who think it's "good" for their child to be exposed to a father who murdered his wife in cold blood by strangling her to death in front of their 4-year old son? The son recounts the events of that horrible night shortly after a woman frees him from the chair where his father has bound him hand and foot and gagged him, only to have the father return unexpectedly and begin strangling yet another woman, graphically choking the life out of her. Once the boy, our main character, reveals that he witnessed his father murder his mother, good ol' dad begins to strangle HIM, too, and the children who are the target audience get to read from a young man's perspective what it's like to be strangled nearly to death. Unbelievably raw portrayals of blind rage and a murderous father who willingly kills first the mom and then attempts to strangle the son. Who thought this was a good idea for children???
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent Written byBelieveInBooks October 14, 2013

Freak the Mighty Too Coarse, Violent and Graphic for Young Readers

I believe that the graphic imagery of Killer Kane keeping his son tied up and the son witnessing him trying to kill Loretta by strangling her, as he, (Kane), had also done to the mother, is an image too difficult for students younger than high school to process. The image of Max pleading with his daddy to get off of Loretta while reliving the same manner of murder of his mother at the hands of his father, is one that I even as an adult kept playing over and over in my head like a movie, trying to rationalize it, as one would after witnessing a horrific event in person. However, you can't rationalize violence. While I am not a book banner in any way, I do think that some topics are fine presented in one fashion, but may not be acceptable when presented in another fashion, for certain age groups. We have struggled for years with the balance of a child needing a high reading level but the concepts in those books being above his maturity level. Frankly, some books have themes and content with which I don't think even we adults should clutter our brains. There are other wonderful books out there that deal with these same themes in a less troubling manner. We are a family with one child with a disability and so I understand partly why the author tried to present some of these related ideas, but I think the coarseness of life throughout and violence overshadows any positive message that might otherwise be gleaned by the reader. Most readers imagine themselves as the main character of a book, while reading it. Children reading Freak the Mighty, will imagine themselves in the position of Max, seeing their fathers kill their own mothers and another woman by strangulation, among other in appropriate content of this book. From now on, I am reading my child's assigned school books from cover to cover.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Adult Written bytheatreteach September 12, 2009
I absolutely loved this story. It has great messages for readers of all ages. It deals with a lot of issues, such as friendship, myth and reality, death, and disabilities.
What other families should know
Educational value


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