Many kids daydream about having wings and being able to soar across the sky. Be careful what you wish for. For the narrator, 14-year-old Max, it’s no dream. “Welcome to our nightmare,” she says in her Prologue to the first book in the electric Maximum Ride series. Maximum Ride is Max’s full name, and she lives with her close-knit “family.” They may not be related to her by blood, but the six of them—Fang, 14; Iggy, 14 and blind; Nudge, 11; the Gasman, 8; and his little sister, Angel, 6—have spent the past four years hiding out at a house high in the mountains. The six kids were bred by scientists who, as an experiment, grafted avian DNA onto their human genes, and kept them in cages in a science lab/prison called the School. They’re 98% human, and 2% avian. They’ve all got wings. And they can fly. The scientists have developed another mutant group, part human, part wolf, called Erasers. They look human, but can morph at will into fanged and bloodthirsty wolf men. When Max’s nightly nightmare of being discovered by Erasers comes true one morning, Angel is kidnapped and brought back to the School. Max and her flock set out on a rescue mission, which, if there are no interruptions, will span 600 miles and 7 hours of flying time. Unfortunately for them, though not for us, there are lots of interruptions, all of which will keep readers riveted from paragraph one.
If you go to www.jamespatterson.com and click on the Maximum Ride books, there’s an embarrassment of riches to be found: an interview with James Patterson, print and audio excerpts from each book, links to curriculum guides, lesson plans, and instructional materials from The New York Times Newspapers in Education Program. Then jump over to www.maximumride.com and zowie, there’s even more good stuff over there. You can read the first four to six chapters of each book in the series, handwritten in a spiral-bound notebook format, or listen to a tantalizing audio recording of those chapters, narrated by Max, herself. There’s even a blog, written by both fans and the whole Flock, at www.max-dan-wiz.com. Too cool.
OTHER BOOKS IN THIS SERIES:
Maximum Ride #2: School’s Out—Forever. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2006. (409 pages; AGES 11 & UP) ISBN-13: 978-0-316-15559-5
Twenty-four hours after escaping from whitecoats and Erasers and the Institute in New York, the flock—six winged kids and Angel’s dog, Total—take off for Washington, D. C., hoping to find out more about all of their parents, from whom they were separated as babies. Their journey is soon interrupted by a squad of flying Erasers, including Max’s own dangerous half-brother, Ari. Sure, they dispatch the hairy, black-booted thugs with aerial kicks, mind control, and explosives, but Fang’s arm is badly mangled in the melee and they have no choice but to get him to a hospital for surgery. Imagine the doctors’ surprise at discovering their patient is a human-avian hybrid. (“I prefer Avian American,” Max cracks.) While Fang recovers, Ann Walker, an empathetic FBI official, offers the kids a safe haven on her bucolic farm in the Virginia countryside, where it sure is nice to live a normal life for a change. Several things are about to spoil Max’s holiday: when she looks in the mirror, she sees an Eraser looking back at her with her own face; and Ann Walker has just enrolled all of the kids in school.
Maximum Ride #3: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2007. (405 pages; AGES 11 & UP) ISBN-13: 978-0-316-15560-1
In a meeting at the Itexicon American Headquarters in Florida, the Director announces the immediate commencement of the By-Half Plan to reduce the world’s population so Itex can take over the world. They’ve successfully terminated all of their recombinant DNA experiments, save one: those pesky bird kids whose preprogrammed expiration date has not yet kicked in. The director orders the enigmatic Dr. Jeb Batchelder, onetime father figure to Max and the flock, but now their enemy, to dispatch them immediately. Meanwhile, it’s been four days since Gazzy and Iggy blew a hole in the side of the Itex building and sprang the flock, and all six flying kids, plus the talking dog, Total, are on the run again, this time heading west to Texas in a 1980s “love van” they’ve “borrowed.” All they need to do now, as Max puts it, is “ . . . to stop Itex and the School and the Institute and whoever else was involved from destroying us and from destroying the world.” That might be business and danger as usual for Max’s gang, but Fang just got an ominous e-mail: “One of you is a traitor. One of the flock has gone bad.” Could it be true?
Maximum Ride #4: The Final Warning. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2005. (256 pages; AGES 11 & UP) ISBN-13: 978-0-316-00286-8
This time, it’s U.S. government higher-ups who would love to create a special boarding school to study the six bird kids, but Max and the other kids aren’t buying it. It’s true, they keep developing spontaneous new mutations, besides the usual one—having wings and being able to fly. For starters, Iggy, who’s blind, can feel colors; the littlest one, Angel, can read minds; Nudge is now magnetic; and Fang can become invisible. On the personal front, Fang and Max are becoming more of an item, and Max isn’t sure how she feels about having a relationship, even though she does love him. After escaping death from an exploding pizza, the flock decides to take to the road again, but agree to travel together to southern Argentina to help a boatload of scientists on a mission to gather research on global warming and its effects on Antarctica. On their trail are henchmen of the Uber-Director, who may only be a human head attached by an artificial spinal column to some very modern machinery, but is one powerful and nasty guy who has just put a price tag on the kids’ heads of a cool five hundred million bucks.
Maximum Ride #5: MAX. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2009. (309 pages; AGES 10 AND UP) ISBN-13: 978-0-316-00289-9
In this fifth book in the Maximum Ride series, Max and the flock, now back from Antarctica, are putting on a display of their flying prowess at an air show in California for the Coalition to Stop the Madness, a group dedicated to educating the world about the dangers of pollution. The six of them, plus their winged, wisecracking dog, Total, are flying in formation when Angel, the youngest, plows into Max, knocking her off course. Which means the bullet meant for Max misses her and hits Total, nicking his tail. Total, as always, thinks the worst. “I’m hit, Max. They got me. I guess I’m gonna live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse, huh?” Who’s the sniper trying to do away with Max this time? His name is Devin, and with a Glock 18 grafted to what used to be his right hand, he considers himself a living work of art. Thanks to Angel, his shot misses and he ends up blowing himself up rather than letting himself be caught. Ouch.
Are the kids out of danger now? Certainly not. Mind you, Max has been preoccupied lately, trying to figure out her relationship with the enigmatic Fang, who has kissed her several times. (This installment definitely has the most kissing, which will make the girls swoon, but there’s also no lack of action and danger, which will make the boys swoon. It’s a win-win book, that’s for sure.) On the down side, at their next air show in polluted Mexico City, the six kids are attacked again by 60 humanish ninja-type robots with green laser-like eyes. Max’s pronouncement, after the flock’s skirmish and victory?: “Okay. No more air shows.” On the upside, waiting for them with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies is Max’s wonderful mom, Dr. Valencia Martinez, and half-sister, Ella. There’s more bad stuff on the horizon, though, including: Max getting shot in the wing and threatened by bad guy, Mr. Chu; ten-year-old Nudge wanting to leave the flock so she can stay at school in the Utah desert; Max’s mom getting kidnapped and held hostage by Dr. Chu to force CSM to stop pressuring big business; and the safe house where the flock is staying being surrounded by 80-plus robot guys with Uzis attached to their arms. And that’s just part 1! Max’s mission is to rescue her mother and, of course, to save the world, but no one ever said it would be easy.
Maximum Ride #6: FANG. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2010. (336 pages; AGES 11 & UP) ISBN-13: 978-0316036191
Max and her flock are in Africa right now with the activist group, CSM, the Coalition to Stop the Madness, working with a food distribution program at a refugee camp in Chad. Max and Fang are a regular item at last, slipping away from the others to talk and kiss. After dinner, with the whole group sitting around the campfire, Max silently contemplates the day she and Fang could be alone together, with the flock safe, and with no immediate worries. Angel, now seven, interrupts Max’s thoughts, saying aloud, to the shock of everyone, “Nothing can last forever, Max. And actually—I hate to tell you this, but Fang will be the first to die. And it will be soon.”
As if that isn’t earth-shattering enough, since Angel has never been wrong before, enter a billionaire businessman, Dr. Hans Gunther-Hagen. He’s interested in getting to know the bird children, and introduces them to his protégé, a devastatingly good-looking teen named Dylan. What’s special about him? He has wings, too. When Jeb, Max’s biological father, shows up at the house with Dylan, the resulting conflict leads to the flock splitting up, with Fang and Max cast out, and Angel elected leader of the others. The results won’t be pretty.
Maximum Ride #7: Angel. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2011. (320 pages; AGES 11 & UP) ISBN-13: 978-0316036207
In the second-to-last book in the series, more and more genetically-mutated kids are popping up, all with questionable allegiances to the Flock and the human race. Max has Dylan by her side, but Fang’s absence has made her seriously depressed. Fang, meanwhile, is learning to be a leader to his new Flock, all who carry newer, varying powers from their mutations.
Dr. Gunther-Hagen has informed Max that her destiny is to marry Dylan and, together, lead a new generation of mutants. Max’s mom, Dr. Martinez, puts the kibosh on this plan, as Max is too young anyway, but encourages the Flock to visit these “Gen 77” kids. When their plan runs into a trap, and the Flock realizes the doctor is involved with a group that wants to destroy the human race, the kids vow never to trust another adult again. Max and Fang reunite, but nothing is the same with Max’s clone, Maya, and Dylan still in the picture. Will the two joined Flocks be able to work together, stop the Doomsday Group before it’s too late, and come out of the adventure alive?
Maximum Ride #8: Nevermore. Patterson, James. Little, Brown, 2012. (368 pages; AGES 11 & UP) ISBN-13: 978-0316101844
Nevermore begins in the midst of the sad state of affairs where Angel left off: Angel is missing, and Fang has parted ways with Max and the rest to start his own gang. After a fatal skirmish with Max’s Eraser brother, Ari. Fang realizes his band of off-brand bird kids is not as reliable as he once thought, and rushes back to find Max and help rescue Angel.
Meanwhile, a political uprising is gaining momentum. A group called the Ninety-nine Percenters is calling to purge the earth of the human race to make way for the growing genetically-enhanced hybrid population. Jeb is involved with the group, and knows that Fang in particular is a threat to its course. Dylan has been manipulated to kill Fang.
There are questions that the eighth and final Maximum Ride novel just had to answer: What does the future hold for the Flock—will they be able to fight off the increasingly evil threats to destroy the human race? Will Max, or any of her winged comrades, die? Who will win Max’s heart—her shadowy long-time best friend Fang, or the sparkly new bird kid, Dylan, purportedly created to be her perfect match?
There’s never a dull moment in Nevermore, as in the rest of the series, as each page zips from one charismatic character’s brush with death to the next character’s. Add this to the bubbling tensions that come with the series’ descriptions of the ethically-shady genetic experiments, along with an impending apocalypse, and this conclusion certainly does Patterson’s well-loved series justice.
The ending does not exactly fit into a neat and tidy box and will certainly come as a shock. In interviews, Patterson has revealed that while this is an end to the Flock, he loves the character Max and cannot see her gone for long. “It's the end of the series. It's not the end of Max."
Reviewed by JF and Caroline Henley, RKR.
Themes: ADVENTURE & ADVENTURERS. GENETIC ENGINEERING. SCIENCE FICTION.
Little, Brown Young Readers, 2005
Suggested Ages: 10 and Up