by James Patterson & Ned Rust
Little, Brown and Company
Review by Melissa Conway
I paid $19.99 for the hardback, a sum the average teen would be hard-pressed to part with for a book that didn’t also slide neatly into the slot of his Wii.
As a woman squarely in middle-age (depending on how generously you calculate my potential life-span), I am clearly not the target audience for this testosterone-fueled romp, but I liked it nonetheless. Each short chapter ended in a mini-cliffhanger that kept me turning the page, much like a snowball rolling down a steep slope, picking up whatever is in its path and flinging bits of detritus to the wind.
If I were a teenaged boy, I’d eat this stuff up, assuming my usual diet was filled with stomach-turning descriptions of slimy aliens and the nasty ways they kill and devour people. It almost felt like I was reading the script for a television show on Nickelodeon, you know, except for the graphic violence. Although, given the average Spongebob episode, even the violence isn’t that bad—for a teen thoroughly inured to it, as I suspect most these days are.
This is the second in the Daniel X series (I haven’t read the first). I had a hard time pegging the exact target-age the authors were going for, especially after the huge, blobby fish-alien antagonist has impregnated all the unfortunate women in a small American town with its wriggling tadpoles. It’s meant to be horrific in a humorous way, and it is. Only—as the mother of a young boy who is an advanced reader—the objectification of these zombified pregnant gals gave me a twinge of concern if the reader happened to be, say, a fifth-grader who isn’t even clear on how babies are made. I’m not here to start a debate on what’s appropriate in a young adult novel. In this book, people are forced to carry alien progeny, and people die hideously; it’s all in good fun.
As I continued reading, I found myself wondering: if Daniel has the imaginary power to point his finger with his thumb cocked like a gun and blow a hole a mile deep into the ground, turn himself into a mosquito, or teleport himself away from danger, where’s the room for a plot to even develop? He should be able to breeze in and out, enemies smoking in a burnt-out crater behind him—but no. Daniel wants to know what the bad guys are up to, and his snooping ways let the creepy-crawlies get the jump on him. This allows for moments in the storyline where the reader is *almost* tense at the outcome (if I’m a thirteen year old boy, then I probably *am* tense). Will Daniel succeed? Will his imaginary friends get hurt or killed, and if they do, how long until he simply brings them back to “life?” The story is told in first-person point of view in Daniel’s voice, and I kind of felt like he wasn’t being honest with the reader. He’s got the power to do virtually anything with his mind. He’s young and his powers are just developing, but does he know he’s going to win; is he just playing with the bad guys like a cat toys with a cricket? Of course, his parents were killed by the topmost baddie on the most-wanted aliens list when Daniel was three, but we don’t know (maybe the first book answers this question) if his parents had the same powers as he does. If so, then Daniel’s mom-and-dad-slaying nemesis would have to be invincible indeed, and the reader can assume Daniel and this super-villain will definitely clash in a sequel near you.
Sprinkled throughout the narrative are some not-so-hidden messages for the reader, as if the authors couldn’t resist tossing in a few political opinions about our broken school system (what better platform than a bunch of pre-voting adolescents?) These messages are not preachy; on the contrary, they are quite amusing, like when Daniel’s imagined mother provides the school with sarcastic lists of why he’ll be absent on successive days (“Dr. I. M. Trubbell is assessing the state of his bureaucratic mumbo jumbo allergy.”)
All-in-all, Daniel X qualifies as a “good” read in my book, but it’s probably an “awesome” read to its target audience, red-blooded teenage boys who’d like nothing better than to be like Daniel; whipping out the biggest gun, smearing alien guts all over the place, getting the coolest, prettiest girl—anything he might imagine.