Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: "The Maze Runner" by James Dashner

If you haven't tired of young adults in peril in dystopian worlds, then James Dashner's The Maze Runner may be worth your attention. The book is packed full of action and fast paced turn of events that keep the pages turning. The Maze Runner definitely suffers from characters who are seemingly erratic and inconsistent in their emotional reactions to the events that unfold, and while I'd like to contribute this to the life threatening situations that arise (and hormones), I really felt this issue was embedded in the writing and wasn't true to the characters.

Despite some of these character attribute shortcomings, I was immediately drawn into the plot of the story. We follow the perspective of a teenager named Thomas as he wakes up in an elevator lift with no memory of his personal past. He knows his name and he thinks he knows his intuitive self, but as the lift doors open and he is thrust into a group of sixty teenage boys - his internal propulsion to find out what is going on goes against the society these boys have already constructed.

Thomas has entered the Glade, a place with a homestead and trees, animals and consistent food supply, but is eerily surrounded on all sides by giant walls that open every morning and close every night. Contained behind those walls is a massive maze, and there are a select few among the self-identified "Gladers" that spend their days running the maze to try to find a way out. The maze runners always return before sun-down because getting stuck in the maze at night is certain death, for in the maze there are horrendous creatures referred to as Grievers.

As a reader, I was on a similar journey to Thomas, he knew nothing and I knew nothing, so I was following him in an effort to find out what the hell was going on. I felt frustrated in all the ways Thomas did, because the leaders of the Gladers were not forthcoming in their information about what was really going on. They all know they were sent to the Glade, their memories were wiped, and they are oddly provided for and watched by "the makers." But there is no motivation to bring Thomas into all the additional information these boys have gathered during their two year stay in the Glade.

Thomas soon proves to the Gladers that he is not the typical newbie, and his intuitive drive toward becoming a maze runner soon drives him to make risky decisions. However, these risks ultimately prove that Thomas is different and soon the other boys begin to suspect that Thomas has some sort of deeper connection with "the makers." Thomas is further held suspect when only a couple days after his arrival another newbie arrives to the Glade and it's a girl. The routine established over the course of the two years of Glade life is dramatically interrupted, and to make matters worse this girl arrives with a warning that everything is going to change.
Thomas also feels an inexplicable connection to the girl and is compelled to hide this feeling from his fellow Gladers in fear of arousing even more suspicion about his presence in the Glade.

There are some great secondary characters in this story that make Thomas's time there a little more bearable. Newt quickly became one of my favorites as he is clearly the glue that keeps the Glade society working, and he is level headed enough to hear Thomas out and trust him. Minho is the maze runner who takes Thomas under his wing; the two of them have great chemistry that rests on both of their abilities to understand the maze and the thought that goes into being a runner. And then there's Chuck, the young Glader who arrived just before Thomas, who forms a brother-like bond with Thomas that provides our protagonist with a great sense of comfort and annoyance.

I liked how the story progressed and how quickly the end of the maze experiment controlled by the World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department (WICKED) was triggered by the arrival of the girl. This allowed for a lot of action which was excellently described by Dashner. Actually, I'd like to provide Dashner with a lot of credit for making the Glade and the maze stand out as settings. The maze is a character and within the maze there are secrets that the Gladers must learn in order to survive, and so being able to visualize all of this taking place means the description of the setting was very successful. Dashner also does a great job at describing action and building suspense. At times the bombardment of the unraveling of the WICKED experiment felt overwhelming, but I think that was the intention.

Again, my major criticism revolves around the erratic character emotions. For some of the characters, especially those stung by Grievers who go through "the changing," these erratic emotions are understandable. But for Thomas, I felt like his hot and cold relationship with Chuck ultimately didn't merit his emotional reaction pertaining to what happens in the end. I also felt that within one conversation Thomas's emotions fluctuated way too much to be believable, and while I know this is YA fiction, all of the emotions were just spelled out. Perhaps if Thomas had just punched a wall instead of the reader being told the emotion he was feeling then I would feel differently. As it stands, I think these are places that an editor could have intervened with some direction. Especially since Thomas thinks that he's never wanted to punch somebody so badly in his life at least three times - I mean, an editor should have caught that inconsistency.

There is a lot that happened in this story that I didn't delve into for this review so as not to give too much away. The psychological elements were the most compelling and yet the most under utilized, especially in the ending. I had a lot of problems with the ending and how many things were glossed over, mentioned but never explained. I know that part of that is due to the fact that this is a trilogy, but I am halfway through the second book and I am still trying to understand WICKED and their ultimate agenda. It just means I have to finish the series.

If you like YA dystopia and stories with a lot of action, then I think these shanks would entertain you. Thomas is an interesting character, especially as the series moves into the second book, and the bravery of the Gladers is admirable. If you like the looks of the movie and you're like me and like to read the book before the movie for additional context, then I definitely suggest giving it a try. Good that?

For information about The Maze Runner film:

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