In this action-packed, endearing young adult fiction, a group of brave, living teddy bears band together on a quest to rescue a boy kidnapped into the nightmare realm.
With his father passed away, twelve-year-old Jeremy steps up to take care of his baby sister, Carrie, and his widowed mother, Kelly. Now instead of pleasant dreams, he has nightmares when he sleeps. Little does Jeremy know his teddy bear Max is not just a teddy bear but a living entity that protects him from the beasts called Mara that feed off children’s nightmares. Max thinks Jeremy is too old to be attacked by Mara, so he is surprised when the Mara take Jeremy while he is sleeping, thrusting him through a portal into the nightmare realm.
Max teams up with Carrie’s adventurous bear, Harper, a senile and magical old bear, Flint, and the neighborhood bear, Nigel; together – in a delightful, fun, funny, fantastical adventure – they fight the evil Mara and even bigger baddies on the way to free Jeremy while Jeremy contemplates an escape in a bedroom-like prison with some strange albeit comforting company.
Max, the teddy bear, and the boy, Jeremy, are compelling, sympathetic lead characters. Max’s character growth is especially endearing as he struggles and learns from his mistakes. The other teddy bears – Harper, Flint, and Nigel – are equally developed secondary characters with distinct personalities, likes, dislikes, wants, and fears. Moreover, their dialogue is equally snappy and well-written. Sometimes character schticks are repetitive. For instance, perhaps the jokes in which Harper needed to watch more television and Flint misremembered his name were mentioned one too many times. But each time the schticks are brought up, the punchline feels a little bit different – which may be enough to satisfy readers.
The imagery and concept for this book is strong. It’s easy to visualize the world of the nightmare realm, bleak and full of caves and rocks with some Russian architecture thrown in. When it came to the imagery of action, Arnold successfully shows the action sequences instead of simply telling them, which really made the book come alive. It’s difficult to think of action sequences with teddy bears as visceral, but at times the violence would be just so. Despite the violence however, Arnold’s sense of humor plays well throughout. It’s clear Arnold has a knack for reaching the young adult audience with plenty of movie, video game, and Tolkien references throughout the book. For those that do enjoy the book, they should be happy to find that the adventures of MAX AND THE MARA are likely not over yet. The epilogue sets things up nicely for a sequel.
From beginning to end, MAX AND THE MARA boasts an engaging concept, characters, imagery, and humor that make this book a great young adult novel.