Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X (book) by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X is action-packed YA science fiction. Or maybe middle grade science fiction. I'm not sure.

Synopsis:

When Daniel was only 3 years old, an alien known as The Prayer came to his home looking for something called The List and killed his parents because they wouldn't give it to him. The List turns out to be a computer containing The List of Alien Outlaws on Terra Firma. Daniel's parents had not only been aliens, they'd been alien hunters.

Daniel is determined to continue their legacy. By the age of 15, he's gotten pretty good at alien hunting. His life is a little lonely, however. He spends a lot of time with his family and friends, all of whom he has created using his powers. When his latest target, Ergent Seth, prompts him to move to a new location, he decides to try going to school for the first time. School has its annoyances, but there are benefits as well: Phoebe, his first real friend, may soon become his first real girlfriend. Unfortunately, the alien hunting side of Daniel's life butts in, and Ergent Seth turns out to be far more dangerous than any foe Daniel has ever faced before. If Daniel doesn't find and defeat him soon, Phoebe and others may end up dead.

Review:

I'm not sure whether this was written for a YA audience or a middle grade one. Either way, it's a bad book. If it was written for a YA audience, it's quite possibly the worst traditionally published YA novel in existence.

I'm pretty sure I picked this up at a “going out of business” sale at a used bookstore. One thing you can count on, when a book has “James Patterson” stamped on the cover, is a fast-paced, quick read. The only positive thing I can say about The Dangerous Days of Daniel X is that it didn't take a lot of time to get through.

This book is terrible. Really, really awful. In usual James Patterson style (in this case, probably written almost entirely by Michael Ledwidge), each chapter is only a couple pages long, and it's all action all the time. After all, who needs pesky things like descriptions and characterization? Exclamation points, italics, and all caps were used in a lame attempt to up the story's excitement.

Daniel's parents were killed within the first few pages of the book, and their deaths packed absolutely no emotional punch. There was not one character in this book that I truly cared about. The only one I felt even a twinge for was Phoebe, a girl from Daniel's school, and that was only because Daniel's interest in her sent shivers of revulsion through me.

You see, Daniel was filled to the brim with superpowers. He was super-strong, super-fast, and super-intelligent. He could telepathically rewrite people's personalities and memories. He could shapeshift into something as large as an elephant or as small as a gnat. He could create living, breathing, real people out of thin air and then make them disappear again at will. His favorite people to create were his family members and a group of friends. One of those friends, Dana, was sort of his girlfriend. Yes, he was attracted to a girl he created with his mind, and, of course, she was attracted to him. Daniel could also read minds, a power he used in order to best figure out how to respond to Phoebe so that she would like him. This made Dana a little upset with him. As you can imagine, Daniel's girl troubles garnered no sympathy from me.

Despite all these many, many superpowers, Daniel almost died when an alien tried to kill him via a phone call. Depending on what the story called for, Daniel's powers either weren't up to snuff or were so powerful that it was a wonder he'd ever had any trouble at all.

It was painfully obvious that Ledwidge (and/or Patterson, if he even bothered to look over the manuscript) was trying to appeal to a younger audience. Pop culture name dropping was everywhere. There were mentions of the Lord of the Rings movies, Shia LaBeouf, The Grudge, and more. When the book wasn't trying really, really hard to appeal to “young'uns,” it was preaching at them. At one point, Daniel hitchhikes...and takes the time to warn readers that they shouldn't try it themselves. At another point, there's an anti-drug message, as Daniel sees an alien kid selling what he immediately assumes is drugs, grabs them, and stomps on them.

The heavy-handed messages for readers aren't just limited to PSAs. No, there are book recommendations as well. Daniel referred to Water for Elephants as “A honey of a story!” (54). What kind of teen thinks or talks like that? Later, he briefly interrupted the action to tell readers that he got his latest idea from The Iliad. That wouldn't have been so bad, except here's the full paragraph:
After all my thinking and searching through annals of every strategy and warfare book ever written, I'd actually gotten the ploy from The Iliad, by Homer. Achilles gets Hector outside Troy's walled gates to fight him one-on-one while both their armies watch. Check it out in The Iliad. Great story! (216)
Those last couple sentences were completely unnecessary and once again made Daniel seem less like a 15-year-old boy and more like a desperate adult begging kids to read books he thinks will be good for them.

This felt like a parody of action-filled science fiction. Its attempts at humor fell flat – including lame jokes every few sentences does not automatically make a book funny, and neither does including telepathic elephants and cheerleader cows.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • My Teacher is an Alien (book) by Bruce Coville – It's been ages since I last read anything by Bruce Coville, but I remember enjoying his books when I was a kid. Those who'd like a fast-paced middle grade book starring kids trying to save people from aliens may want to give this a try.
  • The Secret Hour (book) by Scott Westerfeld – If you'd like something else starring teens who use their secret super-powers to defeat monsters, you might want to give this YA fantasy a try. It's the first in a series. I've written about this book.
  • Ben 10 (non-Japanese animation, TV series) - A cartoon series starring an ordinary boy who finds the Omnitrix, an alien device with the power to transform its wearer into any one of 10 different alien species. I've never actually seen this show, but the previews and snippets I've seen lead me to believe it would probably work well as a watch-alike.
  • The Andalite Chronicles (book) by Kristian Applegate - The first book in the long-running Animorphs series. I admit, I've never read any of this series, although I picked up a copy of one of the books at a conference. I added it to this list because it came up during one of my searches for middle grade books featuring aliens.

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