Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Angel Experiment

Max (Maximum) Ride is a 14-year-old girl who is the head of a most unusual family. She and her "flock" consist of five genetically engineered children who, with the help of a renegade scientist, have managed to escape a place called simply the School. It was there that they were kept in cages, subjected to painful and humiliating experiments, and genetically altered with avian DNA, resulting in the wings they each bear. And oh, yes, they can fly.

But now Angel, the sweet little girl who is the youngest of the flock (and Max's secret favorite) has been abducted by Erasers, another genetically enhanced group from the School. Erasers are half human, half wolf mutants that enjoy hunting - and killing - their prey. Max must somehow manage to keep the rest of her flock safe while figuring out a way to rescue Angel and bring her back to safety.

I must be the only person in the English-speaking world who has never read anything by James Patterson - at least not until I'd listened to this audiobook. The series has been on my list for ages, mainly because of its enormous popularity among teen boy readers - despite the fact that its protagonist is female (just goes to show that readers don't seem to care about that as much as publishers would have us believe). In fact, one little boy who comes to the library with his older teen brothers (who come to use the Internet and leave him to his own devices for several hours at a time - which has had the happy side effect of turning him into a reader - hurray!) was so excited about this series that he actually went to the shelf and brought me a copy of the book, because he was so excited for me to read it. How could I refuse?

I can see why readers are so addicted to this series. It is action packed, with short, fast chapters, engaging characters, and a constant sense of peril. There are so many questions that are raised throughout the course of the novel, and they are answered as further questions are raised, so there is always something intriguing for the reader to ponder. The story is told mainly through Max's first person narration (read by Nancy Ku, who has a young, enthusiastic voice that is well suited to Max's storytelling style), but there are also sections told in the third person (read by Ed Sala), so the reader can learn of events outside Max's immediate purview.

The story was exciting, but it occasionally felt a bit unfocused, with uneven pacing and some scenes that, as far as I could tell, did not do much to carry the plot forward or develop the characters. I had a few moments of skepticism that dispelled some of the storytelling magic - such as how a girl with a 13 1/2-foot wingspan can retract her wings (she evidently has grooves in her back) enough that she can wander around New York City with them hidden under a sweatshirt. She cuts slits in the sweatshirt, but I could never get my mind around how the heck she could pop them through the slits and open her wings to take off into the air as suddenly as she does. I also found that the scenes in which they are chased by the wolf-mutant Erasers became repetitive - I lost track of the number of times they were discovered by the Erasers, attacked, chased, taunted, captured or nearly captured, but after a while I thought: Here we go again.

Still, my interest in the characters, their situation, and the continual mystery surrounding their existence and purpose, never waned. The relationships among Max and the other kids in her flock are developed skillfully through dialogue and action, and they emerge as distinct, three-dimensional characters as the plot unfolds. Max herself is an admirable, immensely likable character, very strong and determined, struggling to do the right thing for her flock, even at the expense of her own safety. The book ends with a few questions answered - but those questions all raise new issues, and challenges, for Max and her friends, and I will definitely be continuing with the series so I can accompany Max on her further high-flying adventures.

Books in the Maximum Ride series:
1. The Angel Experiment
2. School's Out -- Forever
3. Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
4. The Final Warning
5. Max
6. Fang
(Forthcoming March 2010)

The Angel Experiment (#1 in the Maximum Ride series) by James Patterson; narrated by Nancy Ku and Ed Sala (Recorded Books, 2005)

Also reviewed at:
MariReads: "Typical James Patterson style - short chapters, non-stop action right from the beginning, likable and interesting characters. This was a hard book to put down once I got started."
Tiny Little Reading Room: "I thought Max was a great leader while still coming across as a scared and confused 14-year-old girl. And, while not the deepest character portraits ever, each kid comes through with their own personality pretty well, particularly Fang."
You've GOTTA Read This: "The skirmishes between the Flock and the Erasers seemed to happen A LOT and got a bit old for me. However, the character of Max is a positive, strong one...a girl who knows the difference between right and wrong, and stays strong for her family."

11 comments:

  1. Okay. Embarrassing to admit but 1) I didn't know Maximum Ride was a girl and 2) I somehow missed she had wings. Would I have read James Patterson before now? Um. Yes. Will get right on that.

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  2. Kiirstin - That's funny! I had no idea the series was about a girl, either - I'd assumed it was a boy because the boys love the books so much. I'll be interested to hear what you think of this series!

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  3. I have been told I should read this series, but I am very hesitant when it comes to James Patterson...

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  4. Kailana - I think that may be what kept me from trying this. It was fun, though, and I can see why it's so appealing to teens. I'll let you know how #2 goes.

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  5. I loved this book when it was a new series, but I have to say it goes downhill fast... The writing gets just plain bad and boring after the novelty wears off and you can tell the difference after the series gets popular. It has that "I churned this out without paying much attention" feel.

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  6. My son brought home a couple of these books last week. I didn't know Patterson wrote anything for YA's. I'm not a huge fan. I really liked his early stuff, but he just got so formulaic and tired, that I quit reading him. I'll have to see what Chad thinks of them. He's becoming quite my YA reading gauge these days!

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  7. FatalisFortuna - Ooh, I hate when that happens! I am wondering how all this setup is going to play out, so we'll see how #2 goes.

    Stephanie - Please stop by and let me know what he thinks of it - I'd love to know!

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  8. I hadn't even heard of James Patterson until this year, so you're not the only person who has never read one of his books.

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  9. Heidenkind - I'm glad I'm not alone! :-)

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  10. I want to read this series! The only thing I've read by Patterson was Along Came a Spider but that was a long time ago.

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  11. Ladytink - I hope you'll write a review if you do. I'd love to hear what you think!

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