The Third Book: Maximum Ride


I have some history with this book. It’s weird. Everyone who wrote on “Can you recommend a book to me?” pages (or at least, the ones who originally liked books I’d liked) listed this series somewhere. For some reason, I just decided it was about a boy on a roller coaster. This is probably one of the stupider assumptions I’ve ever made. I’m just saying this to reinforce that even though everyone really does (don’t you?), don’t judge books by their covers. I do. If a book has an awesome cover, it’ll catch my eye; an awesome title will, too. But always remember that authors don’t necessarily choose these things. (Grr.)

To move on.

I’m not exactly positive whether this qualifies as The Third Book (as in, my third favorite). It’s another one of those this-is-the-best-book-I-read-since-the-last-best-book-I-read, so-I’m-mentally-conditioned-to-think-it’s-my-favorite-book-ever. I can’t tell you which books it falls between because while it’s great in some places, it’s really frustrating in others.

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, the first book, by James Patterson, is about Maximum Ride herself, a fourteen-year-old girl who lives with her “flock” of 6: Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel. She’s the oldest, and so in charge. They live their lives hiding from the government and the semi-insane slavering half-wolf people out to rip them to shreds.

And, oh, yeah. They’ve got wings.

Now, anyone who hasn’t dreamed of flying isn’t human. If not a dream, an idle wish. Who hasn’t wanted wings? Who hasn’t wanted to look down on towns, unencumbered by glass and metal, and pretend to squash people because they’re so small? (Okay, that one might be just me.)

James Patterson brings this dream to life with the sassy, sarcastic Maximum Ride and her flock of forgotten children, 98% human, 2% avian. You soon find out that they grew up in cages in a mysterious, questionably legal laboratory known as “the School.” They learned mostly everything from television. They were rescued by Jeb Batchelder, who hid them for so many years that the School has resorted to sending Erasers—those wolf people—after them, knowing that that might result in their deaths. To the scientists, or “whitecoats,” Max & co. are just laboratory experiments. Then Jeb mysteriously vanishes—they all know he’s dead—and they’re on their own against the world.

The ride is fast-paced and as sassy as its main character. There isn’t much time to think and you don’t want to wrench your mind away to bother. It’s hilarious and quirky and creative, and it’s like dreams come to life in a scarily realistic fashion.

This actually manages to last for approximately seven and a half books: The Angel Experiment, School’s Out—Forever, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, The Final Warning, Max (and you can see how the creativity is starting to peter out here), Fang, Angel, and then we have the book Nevermore, but I’ll wait to respond to that until the very, very end.

James Patterson is great. How else could he have achieved status as one of the best-selling authors of all time, with nearly 150 million copies of his books sold? He’s crazy prolific. He’s like what every author dreams of being.

Until you look more closely.

WARNING: THIS DOESN’T CONTAIN SPOILERS, BUT IT DOES CONTAIN DUBIOUSNESS. IF YOU DON’T WANT FOR THE RIDE TO BE SPOILED, SKIP TO THE ~~~~S. If you want the ride to be spoiled, highlight everything from here to the ~~~~s and magical dubiousness will appear to cast its doubt upon your experience.

The books were great. But he appears to have written a bunch of characters’ names and picked 5 adjectives to adhere to them. They don’t deviate at all throughout the entire series, except for Max, who undergoes the same exact changes every single book, and Angel, who becomes increasingly disturbing throughout each book, and is then back at, well, angelic status by the beginning of the next one.

Not to mention, there are many, many questions raised over the course of the series. He manages to answer a decent number in the last installation, but don’t count on the mysteries being solved. 

Now think about the story. Six (more than six) kids are raised in a science laboratory. Let’s for now ignore the fact that the science Mr. Patterson proposes is completely impossible. We can do that; the story lets us do that. He makes us want to. That’s talent, people. But now think about the plot. These six kids are broken out by one man, even though the lab has something tentatively to do with the government. Conceivable; he has codes, right? Even though they’re just six kids. Now, they somehow know to talk, in perfect slang, because they’ve…watched TV. Did the scientists wheel a TV into their dog crates for their entertainment? I sincerely doubt so. So…where did they watch TV? Why don’t they speak the scientists’ technical jargon?

Now, these six kids, the oldest of whom is merely 11, somehow survive for 3 years. Alone. Completely undiscovered. And, somehow, without earning a single shred of money, they manage to consistently have enough food. OK, they could steal. But…they’ve been locked up in cages their whole lives. How do they know how to steal? Maybe they learn. But how many towns are within an appropriate distance of a secluded mountain? And for three years, these very small towns get stolen from consistently—these kids, it’s emphasized many times, eat more than your average teenager; and there are six of them—and they don’t notice? They don’t improve security? Now the Erasers swarm down, hundreds of them, and only 1 of the Flock members get captured? And they conveniently know the exact location of the place they were practically stolen from, likely at the dead of night, three years ago? They know the address? And they can just break in to an extremely high-tech government lab? This just continues throughout the entire series, although I won’t spoil it for you. Although technically I already have……

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The lesson here is, don’t pay attention to reviews. If the author has something negative to say they’ll mess up your experience.

These books are great. They are about characters with form, and the books are interesting and incredibly creative—if nothing else, I’ve got to say that—with weird, unexpected plot twists and an underlying message of save the Earth before it’s too late.

Writing

James Patterson doesn’t write deeply or thoughtfully—at least, not here. If he does, it’s which-awesome-guy-should-I-fall-in-love-with?, what’s-the-best-way-to-get-out-of-here-when-people-come-to-kidnap-us-and-steal-us-away-to-be-tested-horribly-in-science-labs?, or gee-my-childhood-was-awful. Also there’s what-does-this-latest-incredibly-bizarre-psychic prediction/piece of advice-mean?, and why-is-there-a-voice-in-my-head? (OK, everybody just accepts that last one without thinking about it too hard). The writing, though, is good. How else could he attract so many readers? 5/5.

Character Depth/Development

I sort of addressed this in the Evil White Section of Dubiousness That You Shouldn’t Read Unless You’ve Already Read The Books. But as I don’t want to make you think too hard before you read it—which you should, despite whatever I say—I’m going to give it a 5/5. The reason why is complicated. The characters do have depth. They kind of have to—at least one of them—if you’re talking in first person. It’s just sometimes clichéd within the books—overused to the point of exhaustion.

Do everyone a favor and don’t look for it.

Plot

Again, complicated. There is a plot. It’s just full of holes, and implausible at times. It also doesn’t make much sense and never really gets answered. However…you don’t want to care (and the holes only appear towards the end of the series anyway so at least read the first one!). And it’s so completely unpredictable it’s almost annoying (but it isn’t, just fun and surprising; don’t take me wrong). Although you can be pretty safe if you predict they’ll get mauled in the next ten pages. I think the two balance out, so I’ll give it a 4/5.

Je Ne C’est Quois

A strong part of why I keep saying “Gee, I hated it” and “It—was—AMAZING” in the same breath. 6/5.

Now, don’t read the below (the Nevermore review, with more Magical Evil Dubiousness) unless you’re already committed to the series, and, preferably, have already read the last book.

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Nevermore. First off, we (Sophie and I) were relying on this book to provide all the answers. Why was Max told to save the world? How? From what? Who’s the Voice? and a lot more spoiler-y questions. Many of them actually do get answered. But there really wasn’t a way James Patterson could tie everything together.

The question is, why didn’t he try harder?

Let’s start at the beginning. That’s an especially apt place to start, actually. Where do we start? With Angel, in the middle of a ruined world. Nobody’s left (except for…maybe a few people? it’s implied). And Max is dead. I have to admit, although I do love Max as a character, a part of me said yes at this. If someone’s going to survive the end of the world, it can’t be Max. That would be the expected path. James Patterson isn’t expectable. Please. But then, because of the magic, I wanted immediately to take it back. Even if it made too much sense and annoyed me, I didn’t want Max to die. (Especially as…the book’s written in first person. But that’s a separate issue.) 

Fast-forward to the end. SPOILER ALERT!!!! DON’T READ THE FOLLOWING:

(Max is alive and the world isn’t completely destroyed. In fact, they’re in paradise. Hello?End of the world, please? When you start something with a prediction, you’re supposed to fulfill that prediction by the end! Hello??)

End Spoiler!

Sheesh.

The book wasn’t satisfying. It answered many questions, but not the important ones. Everything fell apart at the end and nothing made sense and life appeared to be either a lie or taking place inside Angel’s head. Neither of which was plausible. Moral of the story: Don’t betray the trust. Your stories have to be real. You’ve got to be something special to pull off having your entire story turn out to be a lie. Otherwise, you’ve betrayed the pact between yourself and the reader (remember, the one you don’t remember signing? that one?), and they’ll hate you and scorn your work. Unless you have that irresistible pull. In which case you’ll reel them back in reluctantly, grumbling and groaning. They’ll come, but not willingly.

Spare both of you that sob story and make life truthful. Not that Mr. Patterson didn’t. But he did something worse: he raised the possibility and then wouldn’t tell you!

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I’m done. Read the books. You won’t regret it. They might frustrate you, but what good work didn’t? And you’ll learn something. At the very least, just come along “for the ride. For the incredible, indescribable Maximum Ride.”

(P.S. I tagged this as “magic that’s really science.” If you haven’t noticed, I meant “magic that’s explained so thoroughly it’s plausible as science and treated approximately as such in the world it’s used in.” Here, I literally mean “magic that’s really science.” There’s magic here, but it’s literally science, through DNA and things. It pretends its science fiction without actually using science that makes sense. Just pretend it does, as (most likely) you’re not a …geneticist…someone who studies DNA…let’s just say “someone who actually works in a lab.”)

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