How many times have I heard myself muttering, “I hate series. Can’t they publish a stand-alone book?” It’s yet another example of how children’s book publishing is dominated by the bottom dollar. Think of it this way, if a book is successful, it’s much easier (and less expensive) to market a known quantity. Still I cringe when an ARC lets know this is #1 in a series. I hate to think about a title being defined by its number.
And yet…I love series.
I have to admit this when I reflect on my recent reading. I devoured Nancy Farmer’s The Lord of Opium, recently published and well-worth-the-wait sequel to her 2002 The House of the Scorpion, and am anxiously waiting the last in Gabrielle Zevin’s series, Because It Is My Blood. This morning I finished Cynthia Voigt’s new series, Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things (Knopf, ages 9 and up). In fact, Voigt’s Tillerman series was one of the first that addicted me. How could you not be hooked when a series begins with four children deserted by their mother in a mall parking lot?
Voigt knows what she’s doing in terms of sequels.
First she creates an intriguing set up. Maximilian Starling’s Vaudevillian parents have been summoned to India by a maharaja but when Max arrives at the dock, they’ve disappeared leaving only a cryptic note. A similar theme as those Tillerman children, but with a comedic rollicking tone.
Again, Voigt has created a plucky character. Max doesn’t waste time sulking. The 14 year old hits the streets determined to be independent, self-supporting, and find his parents. When it proves impossibly hard in the 1900’s to find a job, he begins to lose hope until a career finds him as he returns an energetic toddler to the worried mother. Before long Max turns detective, or as he likes to put it, “a solutioneer.”
What is this book? A mystery? Yes. An historical novel? Yes. An adventure story? Yes.
It’s all of those. But Voigt’s greatest gift may be how she populates her novel with intriguing minor characters and subplots that come together and entertain as surely as any Vaudevillian act. Her writing is superb, her ideas unique, the pages turn quickly, and yes, I’m ready for the next in the series.