This science-fiction adventure is the first book in "Maximum Ride" series by James Patterson and is published by Little, Brown and Company, in conjunction with Time Warner Book Group.
The Angel Experiment is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
At a secret lab called The School, scientists perform genetic tests on children. Four years ago, one of the scientists (Jeb) helped six mutant kids escape to a house in the mountains. He lived with them there for two years as a loving protector and father figure. Then he vanished. They assumed he'd been killed.
Today, 14-year-old Maximum Ride (Max) affectionately cares for the mutant group like a mother. She calls them the Flock because each, including her, was injected with bird DNA. Consequently, each child has wings and can fly. Other Flock members include Fang (age 14), Iggy (14 and blind due to The School's experiments), Nudge (an 11-year-old girl with the gift of gab), Gasman (or Gazzy, age 8, so named because of his flatulent tendencies) and Angel (Gazzy's 6-year-old biological sister who can read minds).
The Flock has remained under the radar for two years when they're attacked at their home by The School's half-human/half-wolf creations called Erasers. The creatures capture Angel, and the others take flight to rescue her. When the Flock reaches The School many days later, they're captured and returned to animal cages, similar to those they once inhabited. They're startled and angered to find Jeb conducting tests there once again. Jeb tries to tell Max to trust him, but she and the other Flock members escape. Angel tells them she overheard things in the lab that could help the kids learn where they came from.
Based on Angel's information, the Flock flies to New York in search of a place called The Institute. Max begins hearing a voice in her head that speaks in cryptic messages and guides her to The Institute. There, the kids find more mutant children trapped in cages. They evade the Erasers long enough to print out some information about their past history. As they escape, they kill a particularly powerful Eraser named Ari in self-defense. Jeb screams to Max that she's killed her own brother. Max continues to ponder this remark as the other kids read the information about themselves. The younger kids want to fly to Washington, D.C., to follow leads on their parents. Max goes with them, though she has no information about her own past. The Voice tells her she has a greater mission before her.
Max says listening to Nudge's motor mouth could turn Mother Teresa into an ax murderer. She thinks flying must be what it feels like to be God. She says she feels a lack of enthusiasm even after Jeb has told her she's preordained and practically implied she's the messiah. When Max has one of her horrible headaches, she begs God to let her die quickly. Jeb passes through the crowd of Erasers as Moses parting the Red Sea.
Having never been to church, the kids are intrigued by St. Patrick's cathedral. Max says it smells ancient and religious. She feels safe and says it seems like a place where six homeless kids just might be heard. Angel suggests they pray, and Nudge asks if they're praying to God. Nudge prays for parents. Angel prays she'll get her teddy bear back, that she'll grow up to be like Max and that they'll be safe from the bad guys. Iggy asks that his sight will be restored and that he'll be able to "kick Jeb's butt," and Gazzy prays that he'll be big and strong so that he can help people. Max says she never really thought about whether she believed in God and wonders if God would have let the scientists do such evil experiments. She prays for bravery, strength, wisdom, answers and the ability to take care of the Flock. They all feel so peaceful in the church, they don't want to leave.
Max is the main authority figure for the Flock. She makes the plans and keeps everyone safe. She believes honesty is always good, "except when it's better to lie" to protect others. When she hears Angel cursing, she vows to watch her own language to set a better example. Scientist Jeb Batchelder cares for the Flock like a father for two years. When they find him alive and working at The School once again, they feel angry and betrayed. The Voice in Max's head guides her to The Institute. It says it considers itself her friend and loves her more than anyone, but that it asks the questions, not her. Dr. Martinez is the mother of a girl Max rescues from bullies. When Max is hurt, Dr. Martinez assists Max without judging or asking too many questions about her wings. She protects Max from being captured, patches up her wounds and even bakes homemade cookies with her. Max fantasizes that Dr. Martinez is her mother. Some of the Flock members suspect their parents gave them to The School for money.
Max calls a bullet wound she receives sheer bad luck. When the starving Fang finds food, he calls it Nirvana. Max justifies using a stolen ATM card because the card's owner was a jerk, and she reasons that it's his karma getting back at him. In a toy store, a Ouija board moves by itself and tells Max to save the world. When Max is lost in the subway, she lets the feng shui guide her and finds the door she needs.
The Lord's name is frequently used in vain. Butt, crap, h---, suck and heck appear a few times. The kids sometimes curse more severely but without specific words appearing in the text. Max calls the scientists sadistic spawns of Satan. She shoots Ari "the bird."
A number of battles between Flock members and Erasers turn violent and bloody. People are shot and sliced up by bird beaks. Body parts, including noses and necks, are broken with "stomach-turning" cracking noises. When Angel is kidnapped, Max punches a tree until she's bloody and skin is missing. The scientists perform horrible experiments on kids. They shock and burn them, operate on them, put them in mazes like rats and leave them in pet crates when they're not being tested. Some test subjects have vital organs outside of their bodies. A few times, the kids in the Flock see badly mutated children die in front of them.
When Fang has been beaten badly, Max kisses him on the lips.
The New York Times Bestseller List, 2006; YALSA Teen's Top 10 Award, 2005
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Criminal Activity: The Flock sleeps in parks, steals food, hops subway turnstiles, hotwires a car and gets money from an ATM when someone accidentally leaves a card in the machine.
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