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Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever

Style: Average

Attitude: Unobjectionable → Fairly Positive

In Brief: Slow-paced extension to the first book, developing little and establishing few new elements. The older children start to discover relationships with the opposite sex. Iggy finds his real family but they are only interested in the financial possibilities he offers.

Cover of Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever

Author: James Patterson

Series: Maximum Ride

Publisher: Headline

Published in: 2006

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: USA

Genres:  AdventureMoral IssueSciFiThought-provoking


Characters:

  • As for Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, plus:
  • Anne Walker is somehow connected with the establishment and takes the kids into her home when one of them is hospitalised.

Synopsis:

When Fang is badly injured in a battle with new, fiercer Erasers, the Flock are forced to go to hospital where they are interrogated by the FBI but then taken under the wing of Anne and go to live at her home and go to normal school. When the Erasers come after them again, they set off to find the organisation responsible for the situation they're in.

Notes:

In The Angel Experiment you're catapulted straight into the world of the Flock, genetically engineered children who have hidden away from the lab where they grew up. One of their number is captured and the rest fight to get her back and to find a place for themselves. They're chased by the Erasers, wolf-like genetically-accelerated children and discover part of the secret behind their identities. The story rises a little above the level of a techno-thriller by giving characters you can sympathise with and a bit of a shadowy backstory to keep you guessing. As long as you weren't expecting sophisticated vocabulary or poetic descriptions, it offers a thought-provoking and at times moving story of children who are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

My main regret when reading this sequel is that it squanders the build-up of that first book. The premise is already established, and this second book doesn't advance it outside a few uninspired clues as to the origins of the Flock. The youngsters' personalities don't develop, barring a certain interest in the opposite sex and the tension that creates in the group. A few more powers come to the fore, but in a way that seems either space-filling or manipulative. In contrast to the constant tension of that earlier plot, the Flock spend a significant part of this book in fairly cushy circumstances in the somewhat unexplained absence of their enemies. It's true that the Erasers are nastier and have wings, but they're too easily out-manoeuvred by the Flock and never really represent a credible enemy.

A subplot concerning a Max-clone is telegraphed too early and offers little suspense since the ersatz Max is so incompetent that it doesn't need Angel's mind-reading ability to spot the difference. The existence of the second Max, along with Ari's surprising reappearance after his apparent death at the end of the previous story, suggest some sort of cloning, but this is never established or commented upon. At the denouement, the evil scientists' hallucination machine breaks down in a convenient Deus Ex moment, just as the real Max develops a new power which brings her straight to the rest of the Flock. There's nothing tremendously wrong with all this; it just smacks a little of sloppy plotting while trying to get this sequel on the shelves.

There are still some nice moments as the Flock continue to war internally between their wish for real family and the danger they'd be in — as evinced by Iggy's family's somewhat mercenary attitude when they receive him back and the reluctance of the younger characters to leave the comfort of Anne's home. And there are some genuinely tense moments, such as when Max is in the isolation tank; or when she has to decide whether the boy she's kissed is a likely plant; or when, using her new-found super-speed, Max shoots ahead of the Flock and appears to be trying to slash her arteries. But too much is left unsaid: Anne's position in the scheme of things; the real history of the school they attend; the origin and background of the other Max and of the revived Ari. Granted, most of the action is seen through the eyes of Max (the real and the ersatz) and of Ari, so it's only right that you should understand in the measure that they do. But it's in the author's hands to keep his characters informed so that the readers stay informed, and some of their ignorance seems gratuitous rather than dramatically-demanded.

There's nothing really wrong with the story; it just seems as though it was put out too soon and doesn't offer enough to merit the sequel.

Themes:

  • Genetic manipulation
  • Mind-manipulation for good ends
  • Trusting those you love

Jeb pushed Ari, forcing him to back up. Ari looked crazed with fury, his jaws snapping, beady red eyes burning. He kept pointing at us, high up in the air and seemed to be arguing with Jeb. I was torn — I wanted to race out of there, put as much distance between the Erasers and us as possible. But, as usual, seeing Jeb created mixed emotions. Rage being the primary one.

Jeb, Anne, the Erasers, Pruitt, the other teachers. They were all parts of a bigger picture, but right now the picture looked like it had been painted by drunken monkeys — nothing added up.

Saturday 19th May 2007