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Literature / Saving Max

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Saving Max is a 2010 American novel by Antoinette van Heugten.
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Max Parkman is a sixteen-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome and learning disabilities whose problems with aggression, depression, and drug abuse have forced his mother Danielle, a successful Manhattan-based attorney, to take him to the Maitland Psychiatric Asylum in Plano, Iowa. After Max is admitted, his chart reports that his behaviors rapidly escalate, with Max developing a violent hatred towards Jonas Morrison, an autistic and intellectually impaired boy in the same ward, and receiving a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Then Danielle finds Jonas stabbed to death, and Max nearby covered in blood and clutching a weapon. Now Danielle must prove Max innocent of murder and herself innocent of helping him, with the help of her lawyer Sevillas and his detective friend Doaks.


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Saving Max contains examples of:

  • 555: One of Jonas's doctors has the number 555-4600.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Jonas is posthumously diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome by proxy. That diagnosis should really have gone to Marianne.
  • Attention Whore: Marianne, to such an extreme degree that she relishes being watched by everyone at her daughter's funeral.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: The hotel coffee is vile.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Danielle gets into the apartment of Marianne Morrison, Jonas's mother, by telling the inexperienced guard that she's Marianne and that she's a surgeon who needs to get to the OR early tomorrow, then threatening to call his manager if he doesn't let her in.
  • Carpet of Virility: Danielle sleeps with Tony, another guest at Danielle's hotel who turns out to be her and Max's attorney, who has one.
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  • Character Tics: Jonas mutters to himself and twitches like he's doing the flamenco sitting down. Danielle recognizes this as his attempts to communicate.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Marianne keeps the ampoules of poison she used to kill Kevin and Ashley, as well as the comb she used to stab Jonas.
  • Crying After Sex: After Danielle and Tony have sex, she starts crying because it's brought all her emotions closer to the surface.
  • Cry into Chest: Danielle cries into Sevillas' chest.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Danielle rubs her wrists when she's briefly uncuffed in court.
  • Dies Wide Open: Jonas is found staring at the ceiling.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Danielle tells Max to hide his meds under his tongue and spit them out, as she suspects that experimental medication is being tested on him.
  • Emotion Suppression: The stronger Max's emotions are, the less he shows. Danielle knows he's terrified when he looks bored out of his skull.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: One prosthetics company is called Prosthetics, Inc.
  • Expelled from Every Other School: Max has cut a swath through Manhattan's schools. Even the special schools have kicked him out.
  • A Fool for a Client: Danielle dismisses Sevillas and represents herself during the hearing while she shows the court the evidence against Marianne.
  • Glorified Sperm Donor: Max is the product of a short-lived affair with an unhappily married attorney who doesn't know he exists.
  • Holding Hands: Sevillas and Georgia both hold Max's hand in the courtroom.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Doaks has never owned a computer and barely knows what Google is.
  • How Many Fingers?: After Jonas is beaten up, Nurse Kreng says, "Now, look at my fingers. How many do you see?" Jonas isn't verbal enough to answer her.
  • Mad Scientist: Part of Marianne's motive. She ran all kinds of experiments on her children, both medical and behavioral.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Marianne is excellent at making her victims' illnesses look natural.
  • Münchausen Syndrome: More specifically, Munchausen by proxy. Jonas wasn't born intellectually impaired - he has Childhood Brain Damage from a seizure induced by Marianne. He also isn't really autistic, and only appears that way because of the behaviors trained in him by Marianne, which include self-injuring on cue. Marianne has had two previous children - Kevin and Ashley, who both died in early childhood from her abuse - as well as multiple "miscarriages."
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted by Marianne's husband Raymond, who has two strokes in his sleep and soils himself. Marianne covers him with a blanket so she won't have to look at the mess.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Marianne has an embroidery with the words Every good boy does fine. The password to her most incriminating files is "EGBDF."
  • Parental Substitute: Danielle's coworker and best friend Georgia has helped out so much during Max's childhood that he sees her almost as another parent.
  • Preppy Name: Lowell Stratton Price III, the head of the executive committee of Danielle's law firm.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Dr. Fastow has been testing experimental drugs on Max that cause violence and lability.
  • Tears of Joy: Max cries with relief when he's found innocent.
  • Teen Genius: Max is very skilled with computers, enough to help with the investigation even while institutionalized.
  • That Liar Lies: Every time Marianne accuses Max of being violent or psychotic, Max jumps up and accuses her of lying. He eventually has to be escorted from the courtroom.
  • Time Out: Patients who seriously misbehave are placed in the "quiet room": a big, padded white box with only a slit of a window for food.
  • Time Skip: The last chapter takes place over a year into the future. Once Dr. Fastow's chemicals were cleansed from Max's system, he was correctly diagnosed as bipolar, and is now on medication that actually helps. Danielle has left the firm and set up a small practice near Santa Fe, where she lives with Max. She is happily engaged to Tony, who has accepted a partnership with a firm in the area. As she's contemplating her good fortune, she receives a postcard from Marianne, bragging about the twin girls she adopted.
  • Tracking Device: Danielle is given an ankle bracelet to keep her within a fifty-mile radius.
  • The Unintelligible: Jonas can only speak in gibberish. This makes it much easier for Marianne to abuse him without getting caught.
  • Verbing Nouny: Saving Max
  • Your Makeup Is Running: Marianne weeps mascara at the sight of her son's autopsy photos.

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