Okay, so teaching school really interrupts my free reading time! It’s okay though, because the librarian at my new school is so awesome and it’s great to have someone at work to talk to about all of these cool kid books. My students LOVE to read this year, too, and they ask for more silent reading time, “please please please!?!” every day. We have the top AR points for the whole school, with about 4 times as many points banked as the other sixth grade class. These kids are serious readers!
Today’s book is one that the librarian handed to me last week. It hasn’t even been checked into the library yet, so I feel pretty privileged to be able to get first peek at it. It’s called Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, by Richard Paul Evans. It was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. This is a fast-paced middle grade book about a boy with secret electric powers and the evil mastermind who wants to capture and exploit him. Michael Vey is a seemingly regular high school kid who is just trying to lay low and not get beat up by the school bullies. One day, a confrontation outs his abilities and he discovers that someone else he knows has similar powers. Michael, his best friend Ostin, and Taylor (popular, a cheerleader, also electric) launch an investigation that reveals that there were 17 of these “electric children” and now they are being rounded up and held at the Elgen Academy, where Dr. Hatch is trying raise an electric army of kids for his own nefarious purposes. Life is good at the Academy, IF you are willing to do whatever Dr. Hatch asks of you. If you don’t comply, there will be punishments! First Taylor is taken, and then Michael’s mom is kidnapped, which sets Michael on a road trip to California with some unlikely companions. When they get to the Elgen Academy, it is much more like a prison instead of the school campus they expected. Getting in is one thing, but getting out seems impossible. Terrible experiments are happening inside and these electric kids are even using their powers against each other. The children who refuse to comply are kept in a detention cell, separate from the rest. Michael, for his refusals to participate, gets locked into a solitary and dark cell for almost a month. (Cell 25!) Can they find a way to work together to escape?
I thought this book raised some interesting moral dilemmas that would make for great discussions. Dr. Hatch is a very tricky antagonist and he plays psychological games with his prisoners. As one of the children noted, he “manipulates by guilt” starting with small requests until the line between right and wrong becomes blurred and he can hold your morals hostage by offering you everything else you ever wanted. He calls his electric children “eagles” and compares them to regular folk being “chickens.” Eagles eat chickens, not because they are bad, but because it is their nature. So, what is human nature? Can you stay strong and continue to make the right choices, even when people you love are in danger? At what point in this game have you gone too far, and can you come back from those mistakes?
I recommend this book to kids who liked The Hunger Games, the Uglies series, and I Am Number Four books. It was an easy read, but an exciting story. The characters were a little predictable, but appropriate for the target audience. This book has an AR level of 3.5 and is worth 11 points. Although the reading level is low, the characters are in high school. However, there is no bad language or mature content, so in my opinion, this book would be fine for sixth graders and up. It would be a great book for a reluctant reader as there is a second book out already and more yet to come!