Dear D. J.: Bravo, Max by D. J. Lucas (a.k.a. Sally Grindley)
For a slightly younger reader than Beverly Cleary's Newbery winner Dear Mr. Henshaw (HarperClassics) Sally Grimley's Max uses the device of correspondence between a boy and his favorite author to build a humorous but moving story of Max, who pours out his feelings to D. J. Lucas, an author who becomes both a sounding board and trusted friend.
In her third book in this series, Bravo, Max! almost eleven-year-old Max, the smallest kid in the class, has worked his way through dealing with a classroom bully. Still grieving over his father's death several years before, things are looking up as Max reports to D. J. that he has made the soccer team, and inspired by his uncle Derek's community theatre role, is writing a play himself.
Then, just as Max is feeling on top of his world, he has to confront a new and daunting group of feelings as his mom joins the theatre group and begins to date a member of the company. Max is used to his mother's total attention, and being left with a grouchy old babysitter, whom he names Mrs. Rabbit, while his mom goes out on dates with James (whom Max names Hairychops) throws him into a tailspin. Strong hints of Max's jealous feelings appear in the script of his drama Buster and the Dragon which he includes in his letters to D.J. Lucas. In fact, James appears in Max's play as the unattractive villain Fungus Face.
For her part, D. J. commiserates sympathetically with Max's feelings while suggesting strategies for using his drama skills to deal with his jealousy. She also shares her own fears as her book, My Teacher Is a Nutcase becomes a successful movie and she begins to overcome her shyness and enjoy being a celebrity.
Things come to a head for Max when kids at school begin to tease him about his mother's boyfriend, and his classmate Jenny tells him that he'll be left behind when his mum and James have a new baby. The usually well-behaved Max gets in a hair-pulling scuffle with Jenny, and he is cut from the soccer team as punishment. Max confesses to D.J. that he plans to run away from home, but despite her quick return letter urging him to confess his fears to his mother, he slips out while Mrs. Rabbit is staying with him.
I got so wet and cold, D. J., that I wanted to go home again, but I'd lost my way.
Then a car came up. It was Baldychops' silly old sports car. Baldychops jumped out and asked me what I was doing, and I shouted at him, "Go away, just go away, it's all your fault." So he said, "I will go away, but not until I've taken you home. Your mother is worried sick about you." I wanted her so much that I got in the car. I didn't speak to him, but when we got to the house, Baldychops said "I'd like to be your friend, Max," before he drove away.
Max does tell his mother his fears about sharing her with someone else, and her reassurance that he will always be the most important person in her life changes his view of the future's possibilities. D. J. Lucas sends him guest tickets for the local premier of My Teacher Is a Nutcase, and Max even finds it in his heart to save one for James.
Earlier titles in this series, Dear Max and Relax, Max (Red Apples), share comic illustrations by Tony Ross and a focus on imaginative writing which makes these short novels popular with young readers and teachers alike.