Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: "Daniel X: Watch the Skies"

When the call came around for the Mother Talk blog tour for Daniel X: Watch the Skies, I thought it would be a good opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the world of young adult lit and see what's new there.

Watch the Skies is the follow-up to James Patterson's The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, which I saw described elsewhere as an attempt to cross "Men In Black" with Harry Potter. I had learned last year about Patterson's really useful website Read Kiddo Read, part of his larger effort to spark a lifelong love of reading in kids by matching them with engaging, wonderful books. So I was interested to see what he would come up with for young readers, specifically boys.

I don't completely buy in to the idea of "boy books" and "girl books," especially when it's based on little more than the protagonist's gender. (I'm willing to concede that Betsy-Tacy and Tib books wouldn't be the first thing I'd hand to a boy, but--girl or boy--if you like Island of the Blue Dolphins, you're going to like My Side of the Mountain, you know what I mean?) But I'm also the parent of a little boy who LOVES books right now. And if knowing more about books marketed toward boys helps me keep that love burning through his adolescence, then I'm game.

Daniel is an alien hunter--and a human-like alien himself. His parents were killed by evil aliens when he was a toddler, and now as a teen he helps rid the universe of other evil aliens. He's a teen with lots of superpowers, including the ability to make matter materialize just by using his imagination (even his dead parents, which sort of takes the edge off the whole orphan thing). In this episode, he faces down the fifth most dangerous alien on Earth.

Here is what stood out to me:

  • The chapters are super short. Many of them total about one page of text.
  • There is a lot of movement--characters changing location, jumping from one activity to another, etc. There is not a ton of detail.
  • Because of points one and two, it's definitely a quick read.
  • There are lots and lots of brand names gratuitously dropped. Which may have been an attempt to make the book current, but (a) will eventually make it seem dated and (b) raised my anti-marketing hackles.
  • The limits of Daniel's powers aren't really explained. If he can create whatever he can imagine, including people who later conveniently disappear, why can't he imagine a huge army of fighters to take out all the aliens?
  • As far as I could tell, none of the characters were people of color. When coloring was noted it was often to point out blond hair or blue eyes.
At first I thought it reminded me of a Choose Your Own Adventure book--short chapters, shallow characters that don't develop, plots that hop from cliffhanger to cliffhanger--without the choices. But then I realized it reminded me of The Da Vinci Code--and I really, really didn't like The Da Vinci Code. But, admittedly, lots of people did.

So if you have a kid who would enjoy a book that's high on movement and short on character, and who would like the satisfaction that comes from whipping through short chapters, I offer you Daniel X.

As a participant in a Mother Talk blog tour, I received a free copy of the book and a $20 Amazon gift certificate for writing this review. is an affiliate.


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