Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: 'Maximum Ride' Volumes 2 and 3




Sorry, I walked into the environmentalist lecture by mistake. Can you direct me to the YA action novel?

Maximum Ride: School's Out - Forever by James Patterson.  Grand Central Publishing (2007).  368 pages.  Paperback.  $7.99.  ISBN-10:  0446618896.

Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson.  Little, Brown, and Co. (2008).  432 pages.  Paperback.  $8.99.  ISBN-10:  031615427X.

Previously, on The Sci Fi Catholic, I gave a glowing review of the first volume in James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, and then some fans showed up and read me the riot act because I played a little loose with the details in my plot summary, so just for the record:  Yes, I know the genetically engineered werewolves are called Erasers, so calm down, crazy people.

Being on a job that left me in a remote part of the country where I had access to libraries but not consistent access to the internet, I recently read the second and third volumes in this series, School's Out - Forever and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports.  The first title gets points off for having a dash in it, and the second gets points off for containing seven words.  I will now perform the unenviable tasks of reviewing these two books without having either of them in front of me, since they're back at the library where I read them, which I think is in another state, and of writing my review on the fly in a coffee shop where I can get internet access and a mean chai latte.

I enjoyed School's Out - Forever almost as much as I enjoyed the first volume, The Angel Experiment, though my standards are admittedly low:  due to my heroine addiction, I could enjoy pretty much any novel about a sarcastic mutant fourteen-year-old girl who spends her free time beating up werewolves.  Like its predecessor, School's Out - Forever,which I'm going to abbreviate to SO-F from here on out, is a fast-paced book filled with absurdities and lapses in logic, leaning heavily on its protagonist's one-liners and snappy narration.

To recap, Maximum Ride and her five pals are genetically engineered human-avian hybrids who escaped from the mad scientists who created them, and are on the run from a group of crazy werewolves sent by the same mad scientists.  They fly around from place to place, snark frequently, complain about being Cursed with Awesome, visit lots of tourist attractions, eat junk food, and either fight werewolves or develop new superpowers whenever the pace starts to flag.

As the second volume opens, Max and her "flock" of genetically engineered flying children are attacked yet again by the werewolves created by the mad scientists who can't make up their minds if they want Max captured or dead, and after one of the kids gets injured, they end up in a hospital where they're quickly accosted by the FBI, which decides it's a good idea for them to all go and live in the home of a motherly female FBI agent.

From that point forward, Patterson apparently forgets that it's supposed to be an FBI agent who's adopted them (when one of them leaves without notice, she panics, has no idea what to do, and even threatens to call the police).  They proceed to have a normal life of sorts and get enrolled in a prestigious school, which gives Patterson opportunity to toss in some standard adolescent shenanigans:  Max has a first date, she gets jealous when she sees the guy she likes kissing the little red-haired girl, one of the kids set off bombs in the toilets, etc.  Naturally, they discover that the school has dark secrets and a morbid history, and there's a tunnel in the basement, and there's a weird and sinister looking filing system, and then the protagonists say SCREW THAT, WE'RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND.

No, seriously.  The story just sort of stops, switches gears, and they all go off to Disneyland, leaving the sinister school and the not-really-an-FBI-agent mom more-or-less unexplained.  I don't usually use this kind of language, but I was shouting, "WTH?!?" (which stands for "What the Heck?!?") right there in the library.  I'm lucky I didn't get kicked out.

For all that, I had a good time reading SO-F.  Like the first novel, it's shoddy, with plot holes large enough to fly a human-avian hybrid through, and reads like Patterson pounded it out over a fun weekend in between other projects.  Nonetheless, the fun he undoubtedly had writing it comes through, and I had fun reading it.  I had to set my brain on "Low" to enjoy it, though, and I had to not simply suspend my disbelief, but draw and quarter it.  Fortunately, that's easy for me to do.

With volume 3, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, which contains no extreme sports unless you count sprinting and tractor-pulling, the series sort of starts to suck.  First, the heroes get a new batch of villains who are lamer than the previous villains.  Second, although Max is for the most part an entertaining narrator, she by this time has started to wear on me, and if she's wearing on me, with my heroine addiction, she's probably downright irritating to other people.  Yes, Max, I know it sucks to be you, to have superpowers and a hot boyfriend and all that junk.*  Now shut up and punch a werewolf.

But the real reason STWAOES . . . good grief . . . is not as good as its predecessors is--wait for it--relevancy.  Blech.  Prior to this, the series was about children snarfing donuts and beating up monsters, but all of a sudden, with the third volume, it's about beating the reader over the head with some message about recycling.  I've nothing against recycling, mind you, but Maximum Ride is not deep enough or internally consistent enough to have earned the right to preach anything whatsoever, but what it does preach is not interesting, nor unique, nor particularly bright.  In fact, the bird kids even start their own agitprop campaign that is as eerily content-free as the current Occupy Wall Street nonsense:  Yo!  The adults have messed stuff up!  We kids should take over and do . . . something.

At one point toward the end, Max gives a stirring sermon on how we shouldn't budget for a military and the government should take care of everybody.  Uh huh.  Whatevs, Max.  Shut up and punch a werewolf.

Paper-thin though they are, I like these characters, so I'm willing to pick up the fourth volume in the hopes that it will suck less hard than the third one did, but unless Patterson drops the Oh noes! Global Warming! thing, and fast, I'll probably be giving it a thumbs down.  When I pay James Patterson my hard-earned bucks to tell me a brain cell-destroying story about monster-fighting children, I don't want to hear a lecture on my carbon footprint.  Now where's that chai latte I ordered?

Content:  Intelligence-free attempt at a "message," frequent action violence, mild crude language, some sensuality--whatever the heck that means.  I'm getting pretty good at these meaningless rating system content lists, doncha think?

*To the fans who are going to write in, I know he is not technically her boyfriend at this point. Calm down, crazy people.
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