HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Max: Best Friend, Hero, Marine
Author: Jennifer Li Shotz
Cover Designer: Rick Farley
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2015
Related website: http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Shotz, Jennifer Li. Max: Best Friend, Hero, Marine (published in 2015 by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York City, NY 10007). Fourteen year old Justin Wincott lives in Lufkin, TX, with his dad Ray, a former marine who was injured in the First Gulf War and now runs a storage facility, and mother Pamela who works at Walmart. His best friend is Chuy. His older brother Kyle is a soldier. While fighting in Afghanistan, Kyle works with a military canine named Max, a Belgian Malinois who is highly trained to protect his fellow soldiers. Then the Wincotts receive word that Kyle is killed. Max is traumatized and unable to remain in the service, so he is sent home to America, where the only human he connects with is Justin and is soon adopted by Kyle’s family, essentially saving the dog’s life.
At first Justin has no interest in taking care of his late brother’s troubled dog. But when Kyle’s best friend Tyler Harne, who had enlisted with Kyle, shows up making accusations against Max as being responsible for Kyle’s death, which could result in the dog’s being put down, and then gets mixed up in some questionable activities with Chuy’s gangster cousin Emilio, Justin and Max must work together to unravel the mystery. How did Kyle really die? What is going on with Tyler and Emilio? And what will happen to Max? Last year, a good friend whom we really trust told us about the movie Max and said that it was a great film. We never did watch it, but when I saw this book in Walmart with the notice, “Now a major motion picture,” I assumed that it was the book from which the movie was taken and immediately picked it up. No, it is a novelization based on the screenplay written by Boaz Yakin and Sheldon Lettich.
There are some common euphemisms (heck), childish slang terms (“sit on your butt,” crap), and near vulgarisms (pi**ed off), but no actual cursing or swearing. Another of Chuy’s cousins, a girl named Carmen, is described as wearing black cutoff shorts and having a fresh tattoo like she was Goth or punk. References to Kyle’s having gone to the prom and Ray’s drinking beer occur. And Justin and Carmen do kiss each other—on the lips. Otherwise this is an extremely exciting, action packed story with an ultimately satisfying conclusion. In the beginning, Justin has a bad attitude and does a lot of mouthing off, but he learns some important lessons and makes a few changes along the way. Reading through the movie synopsis, I gather that there are some things in the film which are not in the book but would help make a little more sense to the story. I assume that perhaps the book was released before the movie to help drum up promotional interest in the film without giving away all of the plot.