Thursday, August 16, 2007

Maximum Enjoyment

I have a dirty little secret. Well, not so dirty, really. I like to read young adult books. I have read the full Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maud Montgomery oeuvres more times than you can shake a stick at. And don't even get me started on Madeleine L'Engle, or the rare English delicacy of Chalet School books.

And yet I didn't have to out myself on this one. My husband came home the day I received my review copy of Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. "You're reading a James Patterson book?" he asked dubiously. "Yes," I said defensively, "you know I like kids' books." (N.B. at the time he still didn't know about the blog. He does now.) "It's a kids' book?" he followed up.

Yes, dear readers, I was mostly unaware of the staggeringly successful career of James Patterson. Certainly Along Came A Spider rings a bell, now that you mention it. The name Alex Cross might have pricked up my ears. But, you know. Guy books, right?

Which is part of what makes MR3 so amazing. The titular heroine, leader of her gang of bird/human hybrid children, is one of the best female characters I've encountered in a long time. She's strong, brave and incredibly tough, an unbeatable fighter--and I mean punching and kicking--but she's also a nurturing surrogate mother to her little charges, even as she longs to lay her burdens down for a moment and let someone mother her.

Maximum Ride is a roller coaster of a book, with short chapters, lots of action and tons of twists. I think I can safely say there's just enough romance to satisfy female readers and not disgust male ones; but I'll have to get back to you when my son and daughter have finished reading it. There are serious lessons to be found here, too: the dangers of technology run amok; the feeling any kid can have (even one who wasn't created in a lab) that the grownups are really doing a bad job of running the world. Most impressive, there are more than a couple of tough moral choices in this book: moments when what's right comes up against what seems practical, or even safe.

Patterson does a great job of recapping seamlessly, so it's possible to pick up this book, the third in a series, and have no problem following the plot or understanding what's at stake. I intend to recommend the whole series to my kids, though. Max and her gang are great, realistic role models--flawed but with good stuff inside--and the writing's not Shakespeare, but it's a treat.

Speaking of treats, the Maximum Ride website is a ride in itself, where you can keep tabs on the upcoming MR movie.

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