Before I start, let me note that I'm writing this review primarily for parents, not the tweens/teens for whom Mr. Patterson has targeted with this series of novels. While there is nothing in my review unsuitable for young readers, the tone and substance of a portion of this review assumes a parental viewpoint.
I picked up this paperback at my local grocery store, just in the mood for some relatively mindless pulp fiction reading, and this one looked intriguing. It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized it was intended for a juvenile audience. In fact, for the teen or tween, Patterson has concocted a recipe they'll find almost irresistible: no parents, no rules, a diet consisting of almost continual junk food, adults who are always out to get them, and a mission to save the world. Oh yeah, and the kids can fly (literally). Got the picture? It's the stuff of every teen's fantasy life: the adults really ARE out to get me, I can eat/say/do whatever I want, I can raise myself without the need for parents, and I can fly.
What's not to like? Well, plenty...if you're a parent. But more on that in a moment.
Essentially, this series of books is about kids who have been genetically engineered to have wings and other special super-powers (like reading minds, super-human strength, super-human endurance). By grafting avian DNA and human DNA, some renegade scientists have begun exploring a brave new world. While the majority of their experiments have turned out hideously deformed, the protagonists of our story turned out remarkably well (with the exception of Iggy...he's blind). They consist of half a dozen kids ranging in age from 6 years old to 17, led by our heroine, Miss Maximum (Max) Ride herself...the namesake of Patterson's series.
In this book, the kids have "flown the coop" quite literally by escaping the lab (sarcastically called "The School") where they were created, forced to live in cages, and subjected to hideous experiments. One can't help but speculate that maybe Patterson has intentionally woven this into the plot to resonate with the juvenile angst of having to live under a parent's roof, submit to their rules, and go to school. Hmmm.
The remainder of the book finds our protagonists running for their lives from those in The School who want to keep their dark secrets concealed at any cost. To accomplish this mission, The School has engineered some vicious little creations - part human, part wolf - that are aptly named "Erasers" since their mission is to snub out the lives of the escaped kids.
Amidst breathless chases and narrow escapes, our protagonists muse about what life would be like with real parents, and express genuine longing for real families rather than the "family" they have formed amongst themselves.
As the oldest, our heroine displays a number of admirable traits; most notably, she is selfless and makes sure the other members of her affectionately called "flock" are fed and taken care of before attending to her own needs. She genuinely loves her brood and it is clear that the weight of responsibility bears heavily upon her slim but not frail shoulders. She's a kid who never had her own childhood, hoping desperately to compensate by giving some semblance of a childhood to the others in her rag tag flock.
It is a fun, fanciful read, but while *intended* for young readers, I would suggest that it isn't necessarily *suitable* for young readers.
As I noted above, what Patterson gives us is a group of kids that can do/say/eat whatever they want, living parent-less (admittedly, not by choice) as they rebel against some monstrous injustices in their lives. But in Patterson's world, the ensuing chase makes it OK for the kids to steal, swear, and generally bend the rules. In a later installment, it's even OK for them to have sex with one another. Now, I don't consider myself a prude, but that isn't generally the worldview that IÃ¢Â€Â™m trying to impart to my children. And I donÃ¢Â€Â™t think most other parents are either.
I know there will be some who say "lighten up...it's just a fantasy novel," and frankly, after I finished reading the book I actually briefly considered reading it aloud to my son (he's 11). But then as I reflected over the various direct and indirect messages in the book, I decided against it. The characters do display some admirable qualities: loyalty, selflessness, courage, compassion, and tenacity. They genuinely pine for the sense of belonging and rootedness that can only come from a nuclear family. Our primary protagonist (Max) accepts responsibility not only for her brood, but for the much larger mission of saving the world. All good stuff.
But for me, there were an equal number of problems introduced along the way: Situational ethics. Foul mouths. A strong, Ã¢Â€Âœscrew everybody elseÃ¢Â€Â rebellious undercurrent. And at least a few thinly veiled symbolic issues, one of which I addressed above, and that I doubt will escape most teens at least at a quasi-subconscious level.
Patterson had the opportunity to give us an outstanding series of books that would appeal to teens without making parents have to think twice about the underlying messages being conveyed. Unfortunately, in PattersonÃ¢Â€Â™s attempt to be Ã¢Â€ÂœhipÃ¢Â€Â with his readers, he gave them a distinctly PG-13 diet that many parents would be wise to check before allowing their kids to partake.
As such, IÃ¢Â€Â™m afraid I just canÃ¢Â€Â™t recommend these books for young readers. At minimum, if your tween/teen is going to read them, read them yourself as well and use them as an opportunity for a parent/child dialog about the moral issues of the characters in the book.