Summary: Chapter 19: Into the Black Down Under

Cops are like bugs, Kenny tells Max. They’re everywhere. He leads Max to an old, abandoned building and forces him inside. He leads Max down to the basement and ties him to the boiler. Then he rips a piece off of Max’s shirt, and gags Max with it to prevent him from calling for help. 

Kenny leaves. Max thinks he hears a scratching sound from the window, and the next thing he knows, Loretta Lee is coming down the basement steps. She unties Max and tells him the plan: Iggy will keep Kenny occupied while Max escapes. Once untied, Max stands shakily, leaning on Loretta. She bends down for her flashlight, then makes a gagging sound, and Max sees his father’s huge hands wrapped around her neck. He’s suffocating her with his hands.

Summary: Chapter 20: Freak the Mighty Strikes Again

Although he knows it’s futile, Max tries to stop Killer Kane. Max screams that he saw him kill his mother. Max knows he did it, and he’ll never forget it. Kane lets go of Loretta and reaches for Max. How could Max have seen it, Kane wonders, being just four years old? Max tells him he does remember, though he’s tried hard to forget. He describes what his dad was wearing, how Max tried to stop him, how his dad locked him in his bedroom, but Max broke the window with his fist and yelled for help. 

Now Kane’s hands are around Max’s neck, squeezing. Max can’t breathe. He hears a voice. “Put your hands up, villain!” Freak has come through the cellar window carrying a squirt gun. It’s filled with sulfuric acid, he tells Kane, then he squeezes the trigger, aiming at Kane’s eyes. Max grabs Freak, and they run up the stairs into the arms of Iggy. The police are there, and Freak is laughing about how the trick worked; how it was soap, vinegar, and curry powder in the gun. Max remembers about Loretta, and the police find her, still alive, in the cellar.

Gram and Grim appear. Fair Gwen is there too, chastising Freak for not staying in the car. Freak is yelling, “Freak the Mighty strikes again!” as his mom carries him away.

Summary: Chapter 21: The Accident of Nature

At the police station, officers take pictures of Max’s neck and send him to the hospital for x-rays to make sure nothing’s broken. Then, Max goes back to the police station for more questioning. Loretta Lee, the Heroic Biker Babe, has a cracked bone in her neck, but she’ll be okay. 

Christmas vacation continues, but Max says it is weird. Fair Gwen is upset with Freak for disobeying her orders not to go on a rescue mission. She tells him he has to be extra careful. He’s been having trouble breathing because his insides are growing, but his outside isn’t. 

Every few months, Freak goes to the medical research facility. According to Freak, Dr. Spivak says that specialists all over the world are interested in Freak’s case. Max doesn’t want to go to school on the days Freak’s having tests done, the two of them being a “dynamic duo” in Mrs. Donelli’s words. But Gram insists. She tells Max that he, too, has a brain.

Max nervously awaits his father’s trial, where he plans to testify. But right before it starts, Killer Kane pleads guilty. He’ll serve ten additional years. Grim reassures Max that the only thing he shares with his father is looks and size. “You’ve got your mother’s heart,” she tells him. Max just hopes that once he’s grown, he won’t turn out like his father.

Anlaysis: Chapters 19–21

Max's reaction to Kenny's cruelty indicates these events are unearthing something Max has worked to avoid. When Kenny leaves Max bound and gagged in the cellar of the abandoned tenement building, Max wonders if his father is trying to trick him and is careful to remain still in case his father is watching to see if he will escape. This response gives readers insight into the kind of man he knows his father is and suggests that Max remembers plenty from his childhood and still retains the coping behaviors he learned long ago. While Max’s coping mechanisms have isolated him and made him slow to trust other adults, they help him survive this situation with his father.

Kenny’s attack on Loretta forces Max to finally confront his memories of his mother’s death. The reader understands for the first time that Max not only knows what happened, but that he was there and saw it all. The attacks are so similar that Max has trouble separating what is happening now from what happened when he was four years old. And though four-year-old Max didn’t have the strength or the voice to save his mother, he is able to stop Kenny’s attack on Loretta by turning Kenny’s attention to him, a mature and thoughtful act that once again distinguishes Max from Kenny despite their similar appearance.

Once again, Freak the Mighty saves the day, demonstrating the power both boys gain from their friendship. Freak distracts Kenny with theatrics and the clever but harmless lie that the squirt gun contains sulfuric acid, while Max provides mobility and the physical strength to get them out of the basement. Together the pair is able to do what neither of them could do alone.

Max’s ingrained empathy and compassion is displayed once again when, after he has been rescued and is safe, he makes sure the police know Loretta is still down in the cellar. Once he is sure she’s okay, he can finally relax into his grandmother’s arms. If there had been any doubt, Max’s compassion and concern for Loretta when he has just been through so much shows once and for all that Max bears no inner resemblance to his father. However, Max still can’t help but worry that something could change when he gets older to make him an “accident of nature” like his father.

Grim and Gram’s reaction to Max’s disappearance also clears up any lingering doubts about how they feel about Max and how much they love him. Max no longer feels like they are afraid of him as they demonstrate their love and concern in many different ways, including making him sleep upstairs so they can see where he is.