Until Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, I had never read a book by James Patterson. Of course I’d heard of the man – he’s permamently camped out on the New York Times bestseller list – and I’d even seen a couple of movies based on his books. But I’m the kind of person who can enjoy a book without any discernible plot, as long as the writing itself is captivating. I tend to equate “bestseller” with “clunky prose.” However, as an aspiring writer of kids’ fiction, I’ve come to realize that plot is indeed important. My 8 year-old son, who has recently graduated from picture books to chapter books at bedtime, gets bored unless there’s a sufficient amound of action and forward movement.
James Patterson, I’m happy to report, knows how to move a story forward, and there is plenty of action. The very active heroine of this book is Max, whose gender-neutral name and fighting capabilities should make her tolerable for young male readers as well as girls.
Max’s voice seems totally authentic. Patterson must have teens in the house, or maybe he spent a lot of afternoons eavesdropping at Taco Bell. The dialogue is snappy, and the teen-aged sarcasm struck me as spot on. There’s plenty of humor mixed with zeit-geist-y references to global warming and the follies of adults. Maximum Ride is a painless read.
Although this book is the third in a series, Patterson provides plenty of background and the novel stands alone . Here’s the deal: Max, leader of a flock of genetically engineered hybrid flying kids, is out to save the world from mad scientists in Nazi-esque Germany. The scientists are intending to reduce the population by half, starting with the weak and ill. Max and her flying friends – Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy and Angel – are on the list of those to be eliminated. Can they stay alive? Can they save the world? Readers will want to find out!
I have a few gripes. The “it was a dream”/”no, it wasn’t” plot twist seemed a bit lame to me. And occasionally, Patterson goes in direct violation of Creative Writing 101, as when he invites the reader to conjure up a cliched lab: “white walls, you get the picture.”
Then again, two million plus readers can’t be wrong. And if this keeps kids reading in the post-Harry Potter age, well, there’s nothing more beautiful to me than seeing a kid with a book. Added bonus: the blog really exists.