When I got sick, I figured the best way that my kids could help me out was by lending me books. The only rule was that they had to include an index card inside the book to tell me why they thought I would enjoy the book.
Knowing that I enjoy the occasional fantasy/sci-fi, a student lent me THE ANGEL EXPERIMENT, SCHOOL'S OUT FOREVER, and SAVING THE WORLD AND OTHER EXTREME SPORTS, Young Adult novels by popular best-selling author James Patterson. There is one other book out in the series, another book to come, and a movie in the works. Also, there's a huge web presence for this series and its heroine, the 14 year old Maximum Ride, anchored by the epic and frequently updated blog belonging to Max's friend Fang and the rest of her "flock."
Honestly, YA books are always a tough sell for me, even when they're written by experienced authors and authors of books that I love. Both Michael Chabon (SUMMERLAND) and Carl Hiaasen (FLUSH and HOOT) have let me down even though they rank up there in my top ten living writers.
The Maximum Ride books are similarly thin. I say similarly because, in general, all of these writers share the same fatal flaw and that's that one has to wonder how much time they spend with actual young adults.
I devoured the three books in less than two days. They were zippy reads and the plot (baddies in the science world have created and abused a series of mutant human beings) was compelling albeit deeply lacking in originality: mutant hybrid children with special abilities often derived from animals living in a School with some adults wanting to "use" them for good and others wanting to "use" them for evil. Has Patterson never seen/read/been exposed to X-MEN and TEEN TITANS?? More importantly, does his editor not have truck with this enormous comic and film phenom?
Can James Patterson write anything (and poorly at that) and get it sold? Yes. Yes he can. And he can because every single one of these books hit #1 on the Times Best Seller List.
I just can't believe that teens aren't insulted by these books, or at the very least by the protagonist Max Ride. Other characters fare better; her friend/possible love interest Fang, for example, is more nuanced and charming. Even the talking dog is infinitely more lovable than Max. Max makes me wonder if Patterson likes teen girls or merely finds them snarky and sarcastic. Max acts far older than her 14 years and she can't let three lines pass without throwing in a bitchy zinger.
It's pretty telling that Patterson appears to only have a single child, a son named Jack. Max represents the worst of teenaged girls blown out to stereotype. She's selfish; albeit the "mother" to her "flock"-- Max mothers her flock because it feeds Max's own need to be needed. She's short-sighted. She's incredibly easily irritated and moody. She's finicky and her allegiences change with the breeze. I'm not a mom of a teen girl, but I taught teen girls exclusively for 5 years and taught teen girls and boys for three additional years-- and heck, I WAS a teen girl for seven years-- and I'm terribly put off by Max (and to a certain extent the other female characters Nudge and Angel).
I was also pretty shocked by the extreme level of violence in these books. There's a great deal of blood and smashed bones and wanton murder.
But yes, I read all three books. The student who loaned me the book is an excellent kid. I just hope she saw through Max's thin persona as the creation of a man who needs a few more (young) women in his life.