The Maze Runner by James Dashner is another dystopian fiction book that landed itself on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s about a boy named Thomas who suddenly finds himself in a place called the Glade, an expanse surrounded by large stone walls and home to around fifty boys that live in an isolated environment surviving on their own agriculture. Nobody remembers their former lives, how they got there, or why.
Beyond the walls of the Glade is a maze that opens during the day and shuts at night to protect them from something terrible that comes out at dark. Thomas’s arrival is expected by the Gladers but the next day a girl arrives, the first one ever to enter the Glade, and she unwittingly delivers an ominous message. The boys have always assumed that if they could solve the maze they could make it back to wherever they are come from, but with Thomas’s arrival the long established order of things begins to fall apart and Thomas decides to do whatever it takes to find some answers before it’s all too late.
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 6, 2009)
I think, I ended up liking this book but I found the first quarter of it difficult to get through. I still can’t decide if the author was smart to make us feel as confused, disoriented, and frustrated as the main protagonist or cheap to rely on devices like that to keep us turning pages. At a certain point you don’t care anymore because you’ve invested too much and you need answers for your own sanity as well as Thomas’s.
Thomas was a neutral character for me that I didn’t really like or dislike until later in the book when he began to show some courage and resourcefulness giving his character a bit of dimension. It was a little weird how often he got his “feelings hurt” by the other boys and whines about not remembering things so you’re relieved when he resolves not to accept the status quo and emerges a leader.
The rest of the characters were decidedly likeable and unlikeable though none were particularly explored in depth (it is a children's book after all). Newt and Minho were by far my favorite of all the characters as they are practical, quick, brave and likeable without trying too hard.
Dashner’s world is created fairly well in that you get an idea of the deceptive peace of the Glade (quiet forest, never-ending nice weather) and the confusing dichotomy of a natural self- sustaining environment with the implied futuristic technology that controls the Glade and the Maze. The boys’ made up slang in interesting, and Thomas’s observations are fairly realistic and gritty fitting a dystopian novel (snot dripping, slimy goo, ugly noses, the cook’s wiry beard hair that Thomas fears will show up in his food).
A nice mystery element, enough clues that you have a sense of the boys’ situation by the middle of the book, constant tension between all the boys, and a few good fight scenes including a “final battle” makes the last half exciting. And what can I say? These kids are narrowly avoiding death at every turn and you'll find you've grown attached them. Though there are many unique elements the plot line isn’t terribly original, so you’ll think you have it pretty much figured out until the very end where there is an unexpected twist in the epilogue that will probably have you rushing out for the sequel despite the inevitable page-turning stress it will cause you.
Conclusion: 3.5 stars Think The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies and an eventual page turner if you’re in the mood for some young adult fiction or a quick dystopian read.
Other books in the trilogy: The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure. Also coming out in 2012 is the prequel, The Kill Order.