Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment
By James Patterson
Adventure, Science Fiction, Teen
Time Warner, 2005
Since I work as a teen librarian, I often check out books of dubious entertainment value because I want to stay stay up-to-date with what’s popular in teen literature. This is not always the best starting point for reading a book: there’s so much great stuff to read and so little time that I slightly resent spending precious reading time on something that is Not My Thing. Still, sometimes I find unexpected gems.
Of course, sometimes I don’t.
Anyway, this is the main reason why I ended up reading The Angel Experiment by James Patterson last week. The Maximum Ride series enjoys steady popularity at the library where I work. You won’t see Twilight– or Diary of a Wimpy Kid-type hold lists, but it definitely circulates a lot. Receiving a review copy of the manga adaptation published by Yen Press was just the final push I needed to go see what all the fuss is about.
Max Ride is one of six kids who are the product of twisted genetic engineering. She and her friends were all built to fly by crossing human and avian DNA. When they were young, a sympathetic scientist helped them escape from the evil school that created them. Now the school is hunting them down and, worst of all, has recaptured the youngest of their group. It’s up to Max and the others to rescue their captive friend and to get answers to some important questions. Who is behind the project that created them, and what do they really want out of it?
The Angel Experiment is a popcorn read with lots of action and little originality. The best science fiction wows me with its shiny ideas; don’t expect that to happen here. All the speculative fiction elements in this novel–which include genetic engineering, telepathy, and kids who fly–are familiar ones, and nothing in Patterson’s treatment makes them feel fresh. Been there, read that.
The pacing feels slightly off. The back cover blurbs brag about the book’s nonstop action, and I can’t deny that the plot is packed with action scenes. (Perhaps the author’s decision to divide the book into 134 very short chapters says something about his opinion of his audience’s attention span.) But the novel often feels directionless after the midpoint of the story. The first half of the story is driven by a very specific crisis, but afterward, the plot meanders. Stuff is happening, but it’s hard to say why.
Patterson wrote the book from several points of view, a stylistic choice that does not do his prose any favors. Max’s chapters are a first person narrative, but the other characters’ chapters are third person narratives. However, all the chapters are written in the same voice. Max’s first person chapters sound exactly the same as Nudge’s or Angel’s third person ones. Interesting or distinct narrative voices would have gone a long way to helping the main characters feel more three-dimensional. Alas, readers of this book aren’t so lucky.
Reading this book wasn’t a wasted experiment for me: I can see why it’s popular with teens, even though it didn’t do much for me. I do think, however, that I’ll skip reading the rest of the saga myself. As always, your mileage may vary.