Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Maximum Ride #3: Book Review

Generally, I only post reviews of books that I either absolutely love and want to share with the whole world, or books that annoy me so much that I don't want a single other person to waste their time with them - even with used copies that are "free with shipping & handling" online. Reviews are surprisingly easy when you have such strong feelings about a book.

But then I sold out (see here), and starting taking remuneration - in this case, an 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 clich├ęd 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.


Anonymous said...

You grade with a heavy hand, but it's good to have high standards. :)

I'd give this book a B. The mad scientist thing is certainly not original, but the bird kids idea was interesting. And I found that Patterson's aim was less on blaming scientists and more on encouraging kids to see all the options of putting their energies and talents into making the world
a better place.

As a character alone, I'd give Max an A. Sure, she lacks some depth, but she's only fourteen and she had a rough childhood. At that age, I think it's pretty reasonable for her to cling to a specific identity (in her case, tough) while trying to figure out the rest. Maybe more of her depth would come through if I'd read the first two books.

nightmare ride said...

I give it an A+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++its the best book I've EVER read.

Anonymous said...

I thought that it was a really good book. I'd give it and A+.These are the reasons:
1)It was funny
2)It was more for like, 3rd graders cause thats when I read it.
3)The action never ended!

Anonymous said...

I say Maximum RIde was the best book I had ever read in along time and I never thought anything would beat harry potter with me, but oh was I wrong. Maximum ride was the most thrilling fast passed book i had read in along time. And when it says to buckel up because we are starting out fast and just going to get faster. Oh you had better listen!

Anonymous said...

I think this book is one of my all time favorites. And I agree...I never knew there was something better then Harry Potter until I read this series. It has got me looking for books I would never have picked out. I think you dont give James Patterson enough credit..his work is amazing and I give this book an AAAAAAA++++++

Anonymous said...

I would give this book an A.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading the fourth book in the series. I am 22, and admittedly loved the first two books. I think the last two were a bit lacking but I would put them into the B category. I brought them to the attention of my 16 year old sister who loves them. I do think his overuse of the word 'grown-up' (I mean, honestly, I don't know too many 14 year olds that use that term, and I didn't when I was 14.) And the lack of any cussing and the fact that Fang's blog usually only has young children replying (as if adults or teens wouldn't be interested,) I found kind of unbelievable and disheartening. However, the messages are good and I would recommend this book, and the series to any reader young or old looking for a fun series with some of the best one liners written in a while.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking around for reviews of Maximum Ride, and what really suprises me is all the A's people are giving it. Yes, the characters, and the dialogue, and the writing quality are all pretty good, as one expects from Patterson... but the plot is rubbish. Really. After thinking about the 4th book for a bit, I have realised all the completely idiotic events that have occured somewhere in the series.


A talking dog grows wings for no reason. Do I need to say anything?

A main character becomes magnetic for no reason, and with no explanation.

Another main character can: talk to fish, breathe underwater, read minds and control minds. Completely unexplained.

Fang can go invisible. We have no idea why.

A fourteen year old freak is chosen to speak to the most powerful group of people in the world over an issue which could destroy the Earth - for no good reason (I think the one given in the book was "because you have been to Antarctica.")

Also, Ari comes back from the dead. For no reason. With no explanation. (Or is there? I read that bit a while ago.)

There are many, many other similarly stupid, contrived and just plain idiotic situations in the books. Not to mention the bit at the end of the 4th book where a whole chapter is given over to Max's speech about global warming. Even though I agree with the's a novel, Patterson, not an excercise in brainwashing children. Also, since when was 'the Gasman' a name?

Sorry for such a long post, but this series really bugs me. I only read the 3rd and 4th ones because they included the words "the end is near" and "final" respectively on the covers, and I wanted to see if Patterson could tie off the whole thing with an explanation that makes sense (for the record, I don't think he can). Rating? One star, D.

Anonymous said...

hey, i think maximum ride is one of the greatest series ever! i really loved the first and second ones, and the third! the fourth fell WAY short, i admit, but i still loved the third!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to read the third one. I liked the other ones. I'll give them an A-.
I love Fang, even more than Edward in the Twilight series.
I think the guys who just told me about the other powers the flock got in the other books. What's wrong with you?
And last, I think you could have put a bit more action with Max and Fang, incase you write anymore.
Bye for now.

Anonymous said...

I'd give the first book a B. It was fast-paced, exciting, realistic, and the characters had depth. I loved how Nudge doubted Fang, how she thought he'd probably leave her. I thought it was great at how creepy Angel turned out to be. I adore Iggy, but it was good for Max to have to make a tough decision and leave him behind.
Then things went downhill.
Iggy changes from Max and Fang's equal, from one of the older kids, to being just a random guy who provides comedy. Nudge is just used as being completely obsessed with fashion and going, "OMG," all the time, and making her act really young. Basically, I thought all the characters except Fang, Max and Angel were shoved to the side and used as comic relief.
The Plot is totally crazy - it's like James Patterson has no idea what he's doing, making things up as he goes along, you know? Nothing is ever answered. It's also pretty irritating that whenever anyone leaves (Iggy in MR2, Nudge in MR5) they come back just when the flock needs their help.
I thought there were a few ridiculous pieces to the series - such as, in The Angel Experiment, when they get a free makeover. Or when - there may be a few spoilers, so don't read unless you've read them all - Total can talk, gets wings, etcetera. Same with the others developing powers! I mean, what's with that?
I do really like the series though - the idea is so brilliant, but there were many cliched moments, and I was hugely disappointed after The Angel Experiment. We got the start of all the mysteries - in the second one I wanted some more answers, a bit more plot.As a series, either a B or a C, because there were Pros to it. It's funny, witty, got great adventure and easy to read with good characters and a bit of romance. If the characters were a bit better developed, they'd be far better, though.
I read School's Out Forever first, and then The Angel Experiment. In Schools out forever, I hated Max and Fang, but in The Angel Experiment, I really liked them.
I also hate perfection in characters. Fang got more and more perfect as the books went on: completely Gary-Sue. What happened to him being obnoxious, shadowy, silent? Also, in The Angel Experiment, both Nudge and Max doubt him. I liked that.
Book three, instead of clearing things up, confused things even more, and it got onto one huge, sticky mess. They are addictive books, but they seriously irritate me. I only read it now for the entertainment - unlike Harry Potter, it is not an epic mystery, with realistic and gritty twists and turns, and characters with lots of depth, but still managing to capture humour - it's just this seriously messed-up, cliched, amusing, exciting, slightly shallow book. The Scientists were also slightly annoying at how cliched they were. Plus, I hated how Max always seemed to outsmart them easily. I doubt a bunch of mad scientists (as they are referred to in the book) would really be so helpless towards six under-fifteen-year-old kids.
On the whole, a good enough series. Easy to read (I read most of them in one sitting), comical characters, action, and an okay plot.