Title: Mika and Max
Author: Laura Bloom
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 176
Mika and Max is an extremely short Australian middle grade novel about Mika, a thirteen-year-old girl who’s struggling with puberty (didn’t we all?) Her, her two younger siblings, and her parents go to stay at the house of family friends for a music festival. The friend’s son, Max, is ten years old and has non-verbal autism.
Mika immediately takes a liking to him and when she and Max get stuck on a bus she decides to ignore her parents’ instructions go out for a brief excursion with him, which (understandably) makes his parents go nuts with anxiety. Mika is into music but her music teacher thinks she’s too hard on herself and decides to stop teaching her. She has a panic attack at a recital and is at a crossroads over what she wants to do next, not quite a kid but not quite an adult either.
This was a cute book and both the main characters were appealing but I don’t think it’s ultimately something that will stay with me indefinitely. The storyline feels rushed and ‘kidnapping’ Max was a really stupid move on her part, seeming borderline uncharacteristic for a bright and well-meaning kid. It felt like a plot device to give the two characters a chance for some one-on-one time. I liked their relationship and how authentic she was with him.
It was cool how she did the sensory activity to try to understand how Max experienced things better. Nothing in this book wowed me but it was entertaining and a pretty good depiction of autism, neither sentimental nor particularly negative and depressing.
It showed how friendship can sometimes transcend language barriers and I think Mika’s feelings will probably be relatable for young teens, especially girls. Growing up is hard but Mika’s strong sense of empathy seems to suggest she will become a good adult, regardless of what whether eventually chooses to pursue music or not as her life goal.