Sunday, March 29, 2009

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (book) by James Patterson

Max and five other teens and children live alone, constantly on the lookout for those who'd like to either kill or capture them. All six of these children were genetically altered as part of some sort of experiment - not only did these experiments give them some of the features and abilities of birds (they have wings, they can fly, and most of them can see as well as eagles), most of them have other special abilities. For instance, little Angel, the youngest, can read minds.

Their relatively peaceful lives are disrupted when Erasers, vicious human/wolf genetic experiments, enter their home. The Erasers take Angel away, and the remaining children are determined to take her back. Max, the leader of the group by virtue of her age, makes two of the kids stay - the Gasman, because he's only 8, and Iggy, because he's blind. Max, Nudge, and Fang fly off to get Angel, who is being experimented upon the entire time the others are trying to get her back. Unfortunately, the rescue team is first delayed when they oversleep after stopping to grab a bite to eat and a nap. Then they're delayed again when Max separates from the group to help a girl in trouble. Max gets shot and recuperates in the company of the girl and her mother - Fang and Nudge don't know any of this and are left to wait for her and wonder whether they should go on without her. The two children who were left behind eventually join up with the rescue team after Erasers destroy their home. Once Max has finally healed up enough, all five kids are ready to get Angel back. Unfortunately, they're captured by Erasers first.

After they're captured, the kids discover that the man (Jeb) who originally helped free them from the School, who cared for them like a father, and who they thought was dead is actually still alive and has apparently betrayed them. He's now back on the side of those who'd like to experiment on them. He tells Max that she should trust him, that she is destined to save the world. Max, of course, doesn't believe him, and she and the others escape the first chance they get.

The kids no longer have a home, but they do know that there's an institute of some sort where they might find answers about themselves, located somewhere in New York. They fly over there, with Erasers occasionally making their lives difficult. New York, with all its people, is like nothing they've ever experienced. They have some difficulties, but they eventually find the institute and discover many more genetically altered beings like themselves. They also find out the names and locations of almost everyone's parents. Only Max, who has been hearing a voice in her head ever since they escaped from the school for the second time in their lives, still doesn't know who her parents are. However, after she accidentally kills an Eraser named Ari, Jeb, Ari's father, shouts at her that Ari was her brother.

I've never read any of James Patterson's books before, although I've read about his books on Sam Sattler's blog Book Chase. I didn't really like his fondness for short chapters - most of them are only 2 to 4 pages long, which is why the book has 134 chapters. I suppose Patterson figured it'd make the book seem even faster-paced than it already is - and I think he'd be right about that, although it does occasionally make for a somewhat jarring read (chapter one ends in the middle of a sleepy morning exchange - very odd). The book seems to barely give readers a chance to breathe - readers haven't even really gotten a chance to know the kids, who are still waking up and figuring out what to eat for breakfast, before Erasers come barging in to grab Angel. Then Max is organizing the rescue mission - it's as much action as possible, with as little backstory and character development as possible.

With all these characters doing things all the time, you'd think it'd be non-stop excitement, but that's not actually the case. It turns out that these kids have the attention spans of goldfish. I'll forgive them the oversleeping - they're just kids, and they were exhausted. However, Max, who tells us herself that Angel is her favorite and almost like her own child, who is supposed to be frantic to save her, takes a detour to save some girl she doesn't know. I'm guessing this is supposed to show us that she's the kind of justice-seeking girl who would do that, but it still struck me as odd. I wonder, too, if she had been killed, would Fang and Nudge have continued waiting for her, letting Angel be experimented upon until she died? It kind of seemed that way. Again, even though the kids say that the rescue mission is urgent, I'm not seeing this urgency in their actions. Don't even get me started on all the silly shopping sprees and splurges in New York - how much did these kids steal from that one guy's bank account, anyway??

The feeling that the kids were on some kind of pre-set course also bothered me, although I'm thinking that this, at least, was intentional. It's hard not to feel like the kids are being herded when Max is doing everything the voice in her head is telling her to do. If I were her, I don't think I'd be trusting a strange voice in my head, especially not one that's telling me some of the same stuff as Jeb, the guy she figures betrayed them all.

Despite all the stuff I didn't like about the book, I still read it all in a day. Do you know how long it's been since I've finished something that quickly outside of a holiday break period? Even as the non-stop action and Max's oh-so-snappy mental "voice" (by which I mean her thoughts, not the voice in her head) annoyed me, they also propelled me forward. I can't imagine ever spending money on this, but do I expect I'll be checking out the rest of the series? I'm embarrassed to admit that the answer is probably "yes."

One last thought: I wonder, did Patterson repeat Chapter 1's first line at the beginning of Chapter 64 on purpose, or did he just forget that he used those exact words before? Maybe he really liked those sentences?

For once, it was really easy to come up read-alikes. I would've also liked to add a couple comic book titles, Gen13 and The X-Men to the list, but it was difficult to decide which collected volume I should link to (especially since both titles can be considered to have more than one "beginning"). All I'll say about those, then, is that The Angel Experiment's pacing and super-powered characters made me think of a comic book - I was going to say that it wouldn't surprise me if the books were adapted into comic books, but then I saw this (I guess it's "cooler" now for something to be turned into manga, or at least something with manga-influenced art).

Read-alikes:
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Those who'd like another fairly fast-paced story with a menacing institute and teens with special powers might want to try this.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - Although most humans don't know it, humankind and Chiropterans, monsters that feed on the blood of the living, are at war. An organization known as the Red Shield tracks down Chiropterans and exterminates them. Saya believes she is an ordinary high school girl until she comes upon several Chiropterans at school one day and is encouraged to fight them by a mysterious man named Hagi (sometimes spelled Haji, which I prefer) who claims to be her Chevalier. Saya, who had had no memory of her life beyond the past year, begins to re-discover her past and her role in the fight against Chiropterans. Unfortunately, her formerly peaceful and idyllic family life is gradually destroyed beyond repair. Those who'd like another story about a teenage girl who used to be part of some kind of experiment/project and whose job it is to save the world might want to try this.
  • Catwings (book) by Ursula K. LeGuin - I've actually linked to the four-volume set rather than just the first book, because I couldn't find a page for the book in Amazon that didn't list it as "out of print." In Catwings, Mrs. Jane Tabby is surprised when she gives birth to four winged kittens. The city is not a safe and kind place, so Mrs. Tabby eventually tells her children to fly off and search for someplace better. The kittens have a tough time of it, but they eventually find a home where they can be happy and safe. Those who'd like to try another story about winged misfits who have a hard time finding a good place for themselves might want to try this. The kittens aren't running from anything in particular, and there's no "saving the world" aspect, but, other than that, I couldn't help but think of this book as I read The Angel Experiment. Winged kittens, winged children...
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Buffy used to be a popular cheerleader, until she discovered that she's the Slayer, the girl whose job it is to defeat the supernatural baddies intent on killing everything and taking over the world. She does her job with the help of her friends, her Watcher (her high school's librarian), and, eventually, a brooding vampire. Those who'd like another story with snappy dialogue and a super-powered teen who's supposed to save the world might want to try this.
  • Night Pleasures (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - This book, as well as the series it is part of, is intended for an older audience than The Angel Experiment. Kyrian is a Dark-Hunter, someone who's given up his soul to the goddess Artemis in order to be able to exact vengeance after death. Part of the price he must pay is that he must continue to fight for Artemis, battling Daimons (a bit like vampires, only their main goal is to consume the souls of their victims). Kyrian meets Amanda after the two are attacked and handcuffed together. Amanda's never been one to believe in the supernatural, but seeing Kyrian fight Daimons shakes her world view up a bit. Along the way, Kyrian and Amanda fall in love, but they're going to have to get Kyrian's soul back from Artemis if they want to have any kind of a life together. Those who'd like another fast-paced story with characters who have snappy "mental voices" and dialogue might want to try this.

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