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Summary: Chapter 4: What Frightened the Fair Gwen

In the basement, Max tells Freak about Grim and Gram, and Freak uses vocabulary beyond Max’s comprehension when observing that Grim must have gotten his “sobriquet” because of how he acts. Sobriquet, Freak explains, means nickname.

Max asks if Fair Gwen of Air is a nickname. Freak explains that her name is Gwen, and he sometimes calls her “Fair Guinevere,” the queen of King Arthur of the Round Table. Max likes listening to Freak talk.

On the subject of robots, Max confesses that he didn’t think robots were actually real, he’s only seen them in the movies. This confession upsets Freak, who explains that robots are indeed real, that television is “the opiate of the massives,” and that books are a truth serum. He offers to lend some of his books to Max. Great, thinks Max, “another chance to prove I’m a butthead.”

Max and Freak hear Fair Gwen’s voice. She’s in the backyard, having spotted the red wagon. She sees Max and is shocked by his size. Then she grabs Freak and hurries home. Max thinks Fair Gwen is afraid of him.

Summary: Chapter 5: Spitting Image

Max describes how he sometimes likes to escape to a place inside of his head, where he doesn’t have to think about anything. After Fair Gwen takes Freak home, Max crawls under his bed where nothing matters, where he can disappear.

Max’s time-out doesn’t last long. Gram calls down to him that Gwen Avery wants to apologize. Gwen, Gram explains, was a friend of Max’s mother, and she has invited Max to dinner. Gwen is a brave woman, Gram says, raising that “poor boy” Kevin all on her own. Max tells Gram that Freak isn’t a poor boy, and that explains that the reason the rest of his body is so small is because his brain is so big.

At dinner, Gwen talks about Max’s mother, and about how cute Max was as a baby. Gwen, Freak interjects, is just trying to say that Max is a spitting image of his dad. Max assures them that everyone says that. Gwen tells Max that she didn’t know his dad very well. She says it was hard for Max’s mom to have friends after she got married.

At dinner, Freak tells robot stories that make Max choke from laughing so hard. Gwen says she’s grateful they’ve moved back for a fresh start.

Back home on his bed, Max cries with happiness.

Analysis: Chapter 4–5

Chapters 4 and 5 document the early development of Max and Freak’s friendship. Both boys have experienced loneliness as outsiders—Max because of his large size and his resemblance to his father, and Freak because of his disability and health challenges. Ironically, their shared isolation is something that connects them and propels their friendship.

The scene in which Freak tells Max about King Arthur is important for several reasons. Freak is an excellent and compelling storyteller who is able to capture Max’s complete attention as he speaks. Freak also uses stories and storytelling to make sense of his life and find hope in hopeless situations. For example, Max clearly identifies with King Arthur, whom he describes as a “wimpy little kid” that unexpectedly became king and who, along with his knights, used armor to “exceed the design limitations of the human body” as they attempted to slay dragons and monsters. The reader can imagine that Freak, another small, physically weak child, also wants to exceed the limitations of his own physical challenges.

Max demonstrates a thoughtfulness and empathy that belies his outward appearance multiple times in these chapters. In his conversation with Gram, he filters his thoughts carefully because he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. He is acutely aware of his size and how uncomfortable it makes her, believing that touching him makes her nervous because she’s also afraid of him. Max stands up for Freak when Gram refers to him as “a poor boy,” and he tries to protect Gwen’s feelings when it’s clear she’s embarrassed that she compared Max to his father. All these exchanges suggest that Max is kind and thoughtful and not someone to be feared, as does his raw emotional response after he comes home from dinner. His tears of happiness illustrate just how much Max yearns for friendship the feeling of belonging that comes along with it. Gwen’s reaction when she sees Freak with Max confuses Freak, but Max knows that she is afraid of him, suggesting to the reader that he has experienced this kind of reaction before, and that he is not surprised by it. His words make it sound like he’s not really bothered by her reaction, but his actions suggest otherwise. He seems to completely shut down, disappearing to an even darker place than the down under, the space under his bed where “nothing matters.” Max is surprised by Gwen’s subsequent apology and even more surprised by her invitation to dinner.

Max’s reaction to Gram, and his belief that she touches him lightly because she’s afraid of him, is a reminder that Max is an unreliable narrator and his perception of other characters and events is, understandably, limited by his own understanding. Although he believes Gram touches him hesitantly because she fears him, it is likely that she is simply unsure how to approach him and is afraid of making things worse.