I’ve mentioned here my tendency to judge a book by its cover. It’s bad, I know. I’ve also mentioned my tendency to pick books by their titles (Never Slow Dance with a Zombie…come on, you HAVE to read a book with that title). And I find most books I’m judging by these standards on the new teen release shelf at Barnes and Noble. Last week, I was perusing and came across The Maze Runner, by James Dashner. The cover looked cool, but it was the title that grabbed me. I love mazes – Halloween is awesome just for corn field ones. So I bought the book and read it last night. All of it.
Maze Runner opens with Thomas standing in a box. He can’t remember anything but his name, and he has no idea how he got there. From this box, he is pulled into the world of The Glade. There, at the center of a large, always changing maze, a collection of boys (all of whom appeared mysteriously just like Thomas), have formed a society with their own jobs and tasks and rules. The number one rule: Don’t Go Into The Maze. Because waiting out there in the ivy covered walls are Grivers, strange, robotic slug like creatures whose sole purpose is to kill Gladers.
When I reviewed Michael Grant’s Gone a few weeks ago, I talked about how much I loved a book that was built around plot and a character rather than a romance. That was one of my favorite things about this book. It was nice to again see a character who had a romantic inclination, but it wasn’t the sole purpose or function of his life. Maze Runner actually has a lot of similarities with Gone. It’s another sort of dystopian, Lord of the Flies on speed set up, with no discernible way out of this prison that the characters live in. But Maze Runner is Gone two years down the road, once order had been established. It shows that with determination and grit, kids will band together and do what it takes to survive. And it is Gone without the sometimes children’s lit feel.
Talking about the characters in this novel is hard for me, because I loved all of them. I loved Thomas. I loved Teresa, even if she was more of a presence than anything else. I love, love, loved Newt and Alby and Minchoo and oh God did I love Chuck. I even loved Gally, the semi-villain of the novel’s beginning. I loved how different each of these characters was while still having a sort of root strength inside of them. I loved how they were all tied together so well despite being so different. And I especially loved how Gally was genuinely messed up. He had a very real trauma and very real suspicions, and watching his mental deterioration was almost heartbreaking even as he was being a total ass.
One of my favorite things about this book, though, was that the setting became a character in itself. The Maze is tricky and dangerous. The walls move, there are terrifying beasts and dangers within, and it seems to be mocking its captives throughout the novel. And…it offers no way out except over a cliff. More than the maze, though, are the creators of the maze. These creators are a total unknown to the characters, but you get a sense of who they are and what kind of things they’ve done and you get a sense of unease with them while still wondering if maybe all isn’t quite as it seems.
I’ve talked a lot about how important suspense is in a plot-driven novel, and Dashner doesn’t disappoint. There are so many clues dropped throughout the novel – little hints, tiny snippets of conversation that turn out to be so important for the later puzzle. Again, as a novel targeted toward young adults, there is a certain amount of predictability in this, especially when Thomas is trying to remind you that something has been mentioned before, even if he can’t remember what it is. But the mystery was still enough that things slipped past my notice, and at the novels conclusion, I had no idea what was going to be happening next.
The ending of the novel was perfect. Maze Runner is the first of a trilogy, but the ending still felt like an ending. The epilogue set up the sequel brilliantly, establishing a whole new level of suspense without feeling like a cliffhanger. And it went so fast. When I first read it, I thought it was too fast. But, having gone back and looked at how long the ending actually
is, I just realized that it felt fast. It felt intense, and I really liked that.
Maze Runner was another smart book. It took the idea of kids trapped and took it to another level – it let them actually take care of themselves. They didn’t degenerate into pig hunters or junk food eating disasters. These kids are survivors, and I loved that more than anything. Even when total panic would be the default, there was always someone around to keep control and help others stay sane. And this ability was admired and rewarded. Hard work was rewarded too, as was skill. It’s good to see such examples for the actual young adults reading this book. Hell, I felt like a lazy bum reading about the hard work these kids did on a day to day basis.
I highly recommend The Maze Runner to all of you for a good, suspenseful, and thrilling read. I’m eagerly anticipating the next two books.
You can read more about the novel here.