Fourteen-year-old Michael Vey doesn’t seem to have a lot going for him. He’s an average student in a non-descript Idaho town. His father died when he was young, and he and his mother struggle financially. He has Tourette’s Syndrome, which causes him to gulp and blink when under stress. He’s bullied by older kids, and can’t seem to get the attention of his crush, a beautiful cheerleader. Despite these challenges, Michael maintains a positive outlook, buoyed by his smarticle best friend Ostin. Oh – and Michael Vey can shock people. Really. With electricity. ZAP!!!
The Prisoner of Cell 25 is the first volume of an exciting, page-turning series penned by popular adult author Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box, The Locket, A Step of Faith.) Evans brings his writing talent to the tween audience, and the results are sparkling and fresh. This is a series that reluctant readers will devour, and established readers will embrace.
In The Prisoner of Cell 25, Michael comes to terms with his electrical ability. And wouldn’t you know it ?.... that cute cheerleader has a super-power too! When Michael and Taylor (the cheerleader) research the phenomenon online, it triggers a series of events that leads them to California (where else?) and a special school with a dozen super-powered teens. The school is run by the benevolent Dr. Hatch who lavishes them with expensive clothes, jewelry, electronics, and entertainment. Of course, there’s something sinister beneath the surface, when Dr. Hatch asks for something in return.
The second book in the series, Rise of the Elgen, picks-up right where the first book ends. We find Michael leading a rag-tag group of super-powered teens in a quest to rescue Michael’s kidnapped mother. She’s being held as bait by the evil genius Dr. Hatch as part of his plot to take over the world, because, well, that’s what evil geniuses do. The search takes Michael and his group, The Electroclan, to the jungle of Peru where they must rescue Mom from Hatch’s secret compound.
As the reader navigates through the first two books in the series, the tone moves from light-hearted to mysterious to downright treacherous. Rise of the Elgen has a few comical scenes, but the mission has little chance of success. Dr. Hatch’s malevolent displays are a bit over-the-top, but not more gratuitous than you would find in comic books, movies, and video games aimed at this age group. For this reason, the series is more appropriate for the middle grade and above audience. (Note: be careful when tagging these books for your AR program. The reading level is grade 3 and 4 due to the quick pacing and dialogue. But they are too intense for most students that age.)
The joy of the series so far is in Evans’ ability to tell a rollicking story. I dare you to find a boring chapter or scene in either book. Even though the Electroclan has 10 members, the reader feels like they know each character. Especially satisfying are the situations in which the Electroclan members combine their abilities to accomplish things none could do on their own. And the inclusion of three team members who have no superpowers makes the story more real for the reader. I will never be Michael Vey or Taylor, but if I am courageous and resourceful, I just might be Ostin or Jack.
Make no mistake – the books in this series probably won’t make it onto any teacher’s summer reading list. Don’t expect gold stickers on the cover or state awards – unless it’s a “student choice” award. But the Michael Vey series could certainly be the start of a lifelong reading habit. And that alone is worth inclusion in school and classroom libraries. Buy several copies, promote them, and watch them fly off the shelf.
Note: books 3 and 4 in the series are also available, and book 5 is scheduled for release September, 2015.