Breaking the rules

Now if you’re into reading YA, here’s a blurb guaranteed to make you want to read the darned book!

WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE.
Do not put this book down. I’m dead serious – your life could depend on it. I’m risking everything by telling you – but you need to know.

STRAP YOURSELF IN for the thrill ride you’ll want to take again and again! From Death Valley, California, to the bowels of the New York City subway system, you’re about to take off on a heart-stopping adventure that will blow you away…

YOUR FAITHFUL COMPANIONS: Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel. Six kids who are pretty normal in most ways – except that they’re 98 percent human, 2 percent bird. They grew up in a lab, living like rats in cages, but now they’re free. Aside, of course, from the fact that they’re prime prey for Erasers – wicked wolflike creatures with a taste for flying humans.

THE MISSIONS: Rescue Angel from malicious mutants. Infiltrate a secret facility to track down the flock’s missing parents. Scavenge for sustenance. Get revenge on an evil traitor. And save the world. If there’s time.

And the book in question?

MaximumRide_coverMaximum Ride; The Angel Experiment by James Patterson.

Yeah, I know: what’s a romance author doing reading all these young adult novels? And why — yet again — is a YA book featured on the monthly reading list?

Well, I happen to love reading well-written, fast-paced YAs with brilliant characters and fascinating plots — and there just happens to be a number of these listed in this month’s reading list. But I’ve singled out this one because not only is it a fast-paced thrill ride with endearing characters and an excellent plot, but I also find it fascinating because it breaks the rules.

Huh? Whaddya mean “it breaks the rules”?

The first character we’re introduced to is Max (Maximum), and because she tells the story in first person point of view (“I”), we become invested in her as the main character. Nothing unusual in that. Then one of her flock, Angel, is snatched by the bad guys. So Max flies off with two of her flock to rescue Angel, and two of the kids are left behind to guard the fort. And here’s where 1st person POV can be limiting. While we’re with Max and her two companions, seeing what Max sees, experiencing what she experiences, what’s happening to the other three kids?

As readers, we’re invested in Max from the beginning because she is telling the story, and obviously we want to be with her every step of the way. But… poor little Angel’s been captured and we just know she’s being experimented on — and we just know what’s happening to her must be traumatic and terrifying. And come on, we intelligent readers just know the Erasers are gonna find the kids’ hideout and try to take out the Gasman and Iggy, the two kids who’ve been left behind. So hey, we wanna be there when that happens, too! And we sure don’t  want to have to wait until the end of the book when Max hooks up with them and they’re all safe again (providing she manages to keep everyone safe, that is!) to find out what’s gone down. No, Mr. Patterson. You’re not gonna do that to us. We demand to know now!

Cue breaking the rules, when Mr. Patterson switches from Max’s 1st person POV, to telling parts of the story that Max isn’t present for in another character’s POV… and in 3rd person (“he” or “she”). So we switch to Angel, being kept in a cage in a lab and being subjected to all manner of horrors. And we switch to the Gasman and Iggy, and learn what happens to them when the Erasers find their hideout. And we switch to Nudge and Fang, when Max leaves them on their own and gets into a bit of trouble.

And all through these switches, it’s Max that keeps it all together and provides an anchor for the story. In this way, rather than using another character to “tell” Max (and therefore, the readers) what happened while she was off doing whatever, all the events appear to unfold in chronological order.

Sound confusing?

Surprisingly, it’s not. It’s done well and it works.

Normally, this kind of technique would bug the heck out of me — mainly because I would be looking at it strictly from a writer’s POV, and so often we’re told  we’re “not allowed” to do this or that because it’s “against the rules”.  And normally, I would find myself analyzing the technique and wondering how the hell the author got away with that! In other words, I would be pulled out of the story. But you know what? It was incredibly easy for me to ignore how Maximum Ride was written because it was such a darned good story that it just swept me up and carried me along to the end.

And maybe, the reason that Mr. Patterson was allowed to get away with this is because he’s already a famous big-name author. Or maybe he’s  just lucky enough to have a visionary editor who knows that the target audience — young adults — won’t bat an eyelid at this POV swapping, and will lap it up.

So, do I want to read more of the series? Heck yes! And daughter’s already got the next one on order at the library, so I’ll be champing at the bit for her to finish it so I can read it next. Thank goodness that she, like her mom, is a fast reader!

If you’re into reading YA, or you’ve got a young adult reader — boy or girl — then I’d recommend giving this book a try.

And if you’re a writer, I’d recommend reading it just to see what you think of the techniques used to tell the story. Even if it’s not quite your “thing” it’ll make an interesting subject for analysis of whether you think that breaking the rules works in this particular case.

To conclude: it’s not necessarily about breaking the rules, it’s about doing it so bloody well and so brilliantly, that the rules just don’t matter any more — something that every writer should strive for.

Below is my full reading list for November 2009.

Note: just in case you’d like a little something extra, here’s the links to more information about Shadowfae, by Erica Hayes, as well as He’s Just Not That Into You, by Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo, both of which are listed in this month’s reads.

  • Shadowfae by Erica Hayes
  • He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
  • Dangerous Girls by R.L. Stine
  • Blood Noir by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
  • The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith
  • The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by L.J. Smith
  • Fruits Basket 3 by Natsuki Takaya
  • The Vampire Diaries: The Fury by L.J. Smith
  • The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion by L.J. Smith
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Mr. Imperfect by Karina Bliss
  • Nightworld: Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith
  • Nightworld: Daughters of Darkness by L.J. Smith
  • Nightworld: Spellbinder by L.J. Smith
  • Fruits Basket 4 by Natsuki Takaya
  • Fruits Basket 5 by Natsuki Takaya
  • Faking It by Jenny Crusie
  • Living Dead In Dallas by Charlaine Harris
  • Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
  • Dead To The World by Charlaine Harris
  • Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
  • Hunted by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
  • Blood Promise by Richelle Mead

:-)

M

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