Richard Paul Evans, read by Fred Berman
Simon and Scuster Audio, 2011
I’m always looking for a good book from the Young Adult world. Sometimes I’m looking for an easy straightforward read, sometimes I’m looking to see what sort of new experimentation is being done in the youth market, and sometimes I just want to know what all the hype is about. My experience with Richard Paul Evans’ Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 definitely falls into that first category. The titular Michael Vey is a young man with Tourette’s syndrome who is constantly bullied in school and who even the administration has a hard time believing isn’t the cause of all of his own troubles. Of course, Michael is hiding a secret–he is charged with electricity, able to conduct and store electrical currents. He thinks he is the only “freak” until he finds out the schools prettiest cheerleader, Taylor, has powers as well (also based in electricity but in a different way). With the help of his best friend Ostin, Michael and Taylor set forth to discover exactly who and what they are.
The biggest problem with The Prisoner of Cell 25 is that it feels like it is talking down to kids. There is a bit of a forced element to the proceedings that makes the novel feel manufactured rather than genuine. Part of the problem is that the book is packed to the gills with cliched. From the outcast falling for the cheerleader, to the high school party, to the brainy best friend these are elements that just feel stale. The cliched elements, in fact the whole part of the novel set in school really detract from the book as a whole. There is a lightness to the novel that seems to be put in place to specifically distract readers from some of the darker disturbing aspects of the novel.
Midway through the novel we are introduced to a character who has the ability to sap the power from people like Taylor and Michael while simultaneously causing them great pain. Readers are further introduced to a group of teens who have been brainwashed and bribed into doing unspeakable acts. However, this aspect of the novel is never fully explored except as a challenge for our hero to overcome. That might sound logical but the primary conflict of the novel would be more interesting if it focused more fully on the whole brainwashing-teens-with-superpowers-as- terrorists- for-hire angle. Instead the focus of the novel is primarily one of “good” versus “evil.” A pure binary conflict without absolutely no shades of gray.
The Prisoner of Cell 25 is far from the best that the young adult world has to offer. Entirely bland and inoffensive The Prisoner of Cell 25 doesn’t dare often enough and when it does the novel is nearly over. In the end the final third of the novel, while providing a break from the cliche ridden first two-thirds, is too little too late. If you’re looking for a new novel to pass along to your teen, one that they’ll remember in the same way you fondly remember the books of your youth, you will be better off looking elsewhere.