The Book of Secrets

illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 356p. (Mister Max: Bk. 2). ebook available. Knopf. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780307976840; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375971242.
Gr 5–8—The plot thickens and the problems proliferate in Voigt's trilogy about a 12-year-old who is determined to be the master of his own fate, despite the mysterious disappearance of his parents. As in the first book, Max doesn't confine himself to discovering what has befallen his mother and father, but at the behest of the mayor, he looks into acts of vandalism and arson which have been plaguing certain neighborhoods of his city. Several of the characters met in the previous volume insist on inserting themselves into Max's "solutioneering" business, and despite his initial reluctance to accept their help, they prove themselves to be valuable allies. Max makes good use of the costumes in his parents' theater and his own acting skills get a good workout as he investigates incognito. There are moments of peril and anxiety leavened with broad humor. The hero can solve the problems close to hand, but we sense that every friend he's made will be needed to bring his parents (whose situation seems increasingly dire) safely home. Voigt's faux-melodramatic plot points ensure that none of these adventures will be taken too seriously, but readers will eagerly await the revelations of the third installment and hope they won't have long to wait for its publication.—Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY
The mayor asks young "solutioneer" Max to discover who's behind the city's rash of vandalism. Meanwhile, Max's parents appear to be acting as royalty in a tiny (fictional) South American country. Voigt's talent for balancing various narrative threads ensures that any one subplot can take the lead and then recede without losing tension. Bruno's black-and-white pencil and ink drawings entertainingly highlight Max's disguises.
Max Starling, an independent twelve-year-old who was seemingly abandoned by his parents in Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things (rev. 9/13), returns with his costumes and disguises to take on more jobs in his self-created occupation of "solutioneer." Having learned that his parents, both performers, are now acting as royalty in the tiny (fictional) South American country of Andesia, Max writes them a letter posing as a curious seven-year-old girl, but the polite response he receives seems to be in code. Meanwhile, Max's work in Queensbridge gets a boost when the mayor, nervous in advance of the king's annual visit, asks the young solutioneer to discover who is behind the rash of fires and vandalism plaguing the city. Max fairly easily uncovers the cause -- a gang of boys demanding protection money -- but then gets in over his head. Voigt's talent for balancing various narrative threads (Max also helps a lonely boy, a worried father, and a lovesick ferryman) ensures that any one subplot can take the lead and then recede without losing tension. Bruno's black-and-white pencil and ink drawings depict the grand cast of characters and entertainingly highlight Max's theatrical disguises. Most engagingly, the value of sustained creative thought is given pride of place in this volume, which promises even greater adventures in the projected next entry. anita l. burkam

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