But then I sold out (see here), and starting taking remuneration - in this case, an amazon.com gift certificate, as well a free copy of the book, from the savvy women at MotherTalk. The first book that came my way was James Patterson's Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. I thought I was pretty well qualified to review this book.
I'm not a literary snob (I love good romance, chick lit., and mysteries), I read lots of current bestsellers, and one of my favorite genres is fantasy/sci-fi. In the last year I've been reading lots of children's and YA selections, reviewing lots of different kinds of kids' books for The Newbery Project. One of the most recent Newbery winners that I read - Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown - reminded me of just how much I like fantasy, and since Patterson's Maximum Ride series is aimed at about the same age group (12 & up), I was really looking forward to it.
Well, if I'd picked this up on my own - perhaps to see if it was appropriate for my ten year old (and it was, for the most part), I wouldn't have bothered with a review. It was just....well, totally (to the max?) mediocre.
I didn't hate this third installment in the Maximum Ride series. I was intrigued by the premise: a group of runaway gene-engineered kids with wings save the world from evil mega-corporation scientists. I actually sought out Patterson's almost-parallel adult book, which I somehow completely missed nine years ago. (Maximum Ride was spun off Patterson's When the Wind Blows).
I didn't finish When the Wind Blows, though. Even the addition of sex didn't make up for a way too-predictable story and clichéd characters. And after reading about half of When the Wind Blows, I definitely felt like Maximum Ride was the better book. During both books, I felt like I was reading one of those X-Files or Star Trek adaptations, with a couple hundred extraneous pages of padding - mostly witty banter and stereotyped descriptions of laboratories. In fact, I can imagine the (proposed) movie, with its cool CGI graphics and nearly non-stop action.
I did enjoy many of Patterson's descriptive passages, and I can see how his writing style would appeal to most teenagers:
Well. If sudden knowledge had a physical force, my head would have exploded right there, and chunks of my brain would have splattered some unsuspecting schmuck in a grocery store parking lot down below. (p. 94)
"Okay, the second they undo us, make sure all heck breaks loose," I said when everyone was awake the next morning - at least I figured it was morning, since someone had turned the lights on again." (p. 115)
But was it really necessary to substitute heck for hell here? I mean, he's talking about evil experiments on children. If you're old enough to read about that, surely h-e-double hockysticks is old hat. Teenagers are supposed to be reading this, not second graders (though I'm sure quite a few second graders know the world hell, too). It grated on me, like many other things in the book.
I couldn't help liking Max, the main character, who was snarky and plucky and strong. But really, she needed some depth. And what's with the two to four page chapters? It makes it easy to put the book down and pick it up again later, but it was the literary equivalent of commercial tv - a book of sound bites.
Furthermore, I'm a little sick of the evil scientist stereotype:
I won't describe the scariest things we saw that morning, 'cause it would depress the heck out of you. Let's just say that if these scientists had been using their brilliance for good instead of evil, cars would run off water vapor and leave fresh compost behind them; no one would be hungry; no one would be ill; all buildings would be earthquake-, bomb-, and flood-proof; and the world's entire economy would have collapsed and been replaced by one based on the value of chocolate. (p. 337)
Do you really think that our world would be perfect if scientists were better people? What about politicians and company wonks and half the people who voted in the last presidential election? Didn't Patterson see Who Killed the Electric Car? Don't go blaming the scientists, people.
Anyway. If I were giving this book a grade, it would get a solid C. I wouldn't discourage any teenagers from reading it - I'm solidly in the "almost any reading is good reading" camp, and there's nothing really offensive in this book, and plenty to redeem it - but there's nothing really great in it, either. Steer your kids to Jumper, by Steven Gould, or Sunshine, by Robin McKinley, either before or after (or instead of) reading Maximum Ride. That's the kind of YA fantasy that's worth keeping on your shelves and re-reading.