Thursday, August 30, 2007

smart girl in charge, snappy dialogue, and a talking dog - what more could a kid want?

I finished reading Maximum Ride 3 ~ Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports long ago, even though the book cover has been the last one on my Library Thing list below all summer. I've been otherwise quite busy, you know, finding new ways to drive the 12 miles into Portland, scavenging through crack spoons, replacing all of my traveling toiletries, and getting a classroom of my own. To have completed any book at all feels like quite an accomplishment, but I am particularly excited to have read this one.

This is a young adult novel, the third in a series, by James Patterson. I've never read his grown-up novels, for no good reason other than I've stuck with my book group selections during the past eight years so I don't have to think much for myself in the literary arena. When I was told to start reading this series last year by someone who knows I teach teenagers and am always looking for a good hook for reluctant readers, I was intrigued. It's hard to classify these stories - I want to say sci-fi, but they aren't at all tech-heavy. Fantasy implies fairy tales and it's not really that either, although there are Wicked Witch & Flying Monkey types throughout. Maybe putting them together and adding "adventure" to the mix sums it up. Essentially, Maximum Ride 3 is a fast-paced, wild trip around the world with a savvy gang of genetic misfits - think X-Kids, with a talking dog.

I love that the leader of this winged group (they're experiments in flying people whom their creators now want to destroy) is Max, a 14-year old girl. She is a sometimes reluctant mother-figure to Fang and the blind but extremely capable Iggy, both also 14; preteens Nudge & Gasman; and mind-reading 6-year old Angel. Total is the talking dog who frequently reminded me of Brian from Family Guy, but more helpful & not as obnoxious. In fact, Patterson developed each of these characters very well; other than a few too-clever-to-be-true remarks, they all speak and act their ages. That is a refreshing change from many modern young adult novels. Too often authors turn their teen characters into soap opera models instead of letting them be imperfect kids occasionally making foolish mistakes. All of these kids exhibit fear & doubt, some typical mood swings, and a base desire to eat chocolate chip cookies at any cost.

The recurring references to environmental issues - global warming, saving National Parks, pollution, mercury poisoning, nuclear war, radiation - seemed rather over-the-top, even to a Wild Oats Pacific NW liberal like me. I have not yet known a teenager to so frequently bring up any of those topics, although I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from investigating. I just got the feeling it was a political card being played pretty hard at young people. But then again, Patterson had them go to a Dallas game and root for my Cowboys, so who am I criticize?

Overall, I truly enjoyed this third installment in the series. And Max's wry & witty narrative allows a reader to jump in here, though it would be more satisfying to know the story from the beginning. I found myself taking the book with me whenever I knew I would have some free time. As a teacher of teens, I will definitely recommend it to my students - especially those who claim to hate reading. Most of the time, such kids are kinesthetic learners, needing some kind of movement or activity to engage them. Action-adventure stories are a good draw as they give the illusion of 'doing something' while reading. Patterson's Maximum Ride series is definitely active; I gave myself credit for exercising after spending an hour or so following the gang on their quest for answers and survival. There are moments of self-realization and some good twists, all done with respectable language and attitude. Definitely an E-ticket this one; go for the trio and your preteens & teenagers will think you're the bomb.