Saving Max is one of those books that can be looked at from several different viewpoints. On one hand, this is the story of a single mother, pushed to the edge by circumstances beyond her control, who is desperately trying to protect her son from the situation.
Another view is that this is the story about how much more difficult life can be for a parent of a child who has high-functioning autism. Overall though, this book is also a thriller that centers around an especially outrageous and tragic crime.
Danielle Parkman is a single mother, something that is never an easy thing to be. Her teenage son, Max, has been diagnosed with a form of high functioning autism, and this complicates everything. At the start of the book, Danielle is taking Max to see his psychologist, because she has become increasingly worried about some of Max’s behaviors.
Max has become secretive, and moody, and a little bit violent, at times. There are signs that he might be suicidal. Max’s psychologist comes to the conclusion that Max really would benefit from being institutionalized at a place called Maitland, which is a top of the line psychiatric asylum. It seems that this is something that Danielle and the psychologist have discussed in the past, but the very idea still breaks Danielle’s heart.
Shortly after Max is admitted to Maitland, things begin to go wrong. The psychologists there feel that Max has many more problems than Danielle expected them to find. Max is having more frequent violent episodes.
Danielle is getting pressured to return to work, after taking time off to deal with things. She is a lawyer, and has been working towards becoming a partner. However, her extensive time off has made her colleagues question if she was really should be made partner after all. If she loses her job, she won’t be able to pay for Maitland.
This is when tragedy strikes. Max is found unconscious, and covered with blood, in the room of another patient, who has obviously been murdered. Danielle believes he is innocent, and struggles to save Max from going to jail for a crime he did not commit. This isn’t easy, because all the evidence points right at Max.
The rest of the book is one intense ride, as clues are discovered, cases are argued, and time ticks by. When you find out what really happened, you will be blown away. I certainly didn’t guess the ending, but once it was revealed, I was amazed at how well that all fit together.
What first got me interested in reading this book was that it had a character with high functioning autism. I have a sibling who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and was curious to see how well the author would describe a character who was like that. The author, van Heugten, has a child with autism, and I believe that her experience in real life led her to capture the essence of what it is like to know someone with high functioning autism.
Max lacks some social skills, is very focused on computers, and also is extremely talented at using computers and the internet to gather information that he is interested in. That same description would fit my sibling quite well.
Another really cool thing about this author is that she was a former international lawyer. This is another area where the author’s real life experiences were used to enhance the book. The courtroom scenes felt extremely intense and believable, and both Danielle, and another lawyer who helps her, seem to know an immense amount about law, how court cases work, and what it takes to get evidence admitted into a case.
When I got to the part where the killer is revealed, I was so impressed with how well that fit. It’s one of those moments where you learn the answer and think, “Of course!”, and then wonder why you didn’t see that coming.