Wednesday, April 24, 2013

#CBR5 Review #17: The Maze Runner by James Dashner


Dashner, writing about running through a maze… huh. I just realized how much that seems like a terribly unintentional pun. In any case, The Maze Runner is the first book in the young-adult dystopian trilogy of the same name. It first came onto my radar when I saw one of those “If You Liked The Hunger Games then you might like…:” lists, and it sounded kind of interesting, if only because most of the young-adult fiction I’ve read over the years has been somewhat female-centric (I don’t know why, it just has been), and this one is centered around a society of boys. Then, I heard some internet whisperings that this was going to be another YA series being adapted for film, with actors such as the strangely endearing Dylan O’Brien, the stunning Kaya Scodelario, and that cutie-patootie Thomas Brodie-Sangster in the lead roles, and my interest was peaked all the more, hence, my delving into this novel.

And was my intrigue warranted? Yes, it certainly was. While the novel has a couple of parts that are reminiscent of usual dystopian stories (and in this way has a moment or two of predictability), it kept me incredibly enthralled throughout; I actually let out an audible gasp or two at a few parts, which hasn’t happened to me while reading a book in a long time. It’s one of those novels which is very easy to read, and you will likely get through quite quickly, due to the fact that there is so much mystery surrounding the whole setup that you just want to keep flipping the pages to figure out what in the world is actually going on.

What we have in The Maze Runner is a boy named Thomas, whose memory is essentially wiped clean, but not as simply as that: he knows a lot about things, but not about events, or who he is, aside from his first name. Thomas wakes up in a black, metal box, only to be pulled up out of it and into a little homestead known as “The Glade,” inhabited by nothing but young, teenage boys, who all arrived at different times, just like Thomas did. The boys have made their own little society here, each with their own jobs and ranks within the community, whose main purpose appears to be to live life by the routine they’ve established, and to solve “the maze”. The maze? You see, the Glade is situated in the middle of a giant maze, with giant doors that shut around the homestead every night, keeping some seriously dangerous creatures out. For some reason, Thomas feels strangely familiar in this bizarre, unrecognizable world, and upon his it soon becomes clear that Thomas is not quite like the other boys, and the typical order of the Glade starts to go haywire; unusual things start happening around the Glade (well, more unusual than they are used to), including the arrival of a young, comatose girl, with an ominous message, and the boys all can’t help but feel as though Thomas’ arrival has triggered something, and that someone is studying their every move. Is this maze just a game? A test? Or is it something else?

One of the most effective aspects of The Maze Runner is that the reader can see inside Thomas’ head, despite the story being told in a limited third-person narrative. We see all the confusion and lack of understanding of Thomas’ new life as it unfolds, just as if we were the ones who were placed inside this strange world. Sometimes when you have these otherworldly, dystopian settings, everyone has lived there for a while already and so understands how things are and what life is like, but we as the reader don’t, and need some kind of exposition to fill us in. It’s not like this is necessarily bad, but sometimes it slows the action down or leads to confusion is regards to certain things, while everyone else around acts like everything is totally everyday and normal, and that can be frustrating (to me, at least). But in The Maze Runner, that frustration of being in the dark about things is expressed through Thomas. There is also a lot of mystery regarding the glade and the maze that people are struggling to figure out, and by only being able to see what Thomas sees, the reader also gets to take part in the mystery and try to piece the clues together, just as he is. This is an incredibly successful facet of the novel, and makes for it to be a real page-turner as you almost want to know what is going on as much as Thomas is, and the only way to find out is to keep reading. This is also why I kept my description of the plot a bit vague, as I feel knowing everything from the get-go might lessen the fun in a way (then again, maybe not, it's really hard to say).

Besides the odd, slight moment of predictability within The Maze Runner, another aspect that irked me a little was the use of slang-terms by the boys. It’s pretty understandable that they would develop these new words and terms in the little society of theirs, but certain phrases almost seemed a bit overused throughout the course of the book, and in that way it became a little stiff. The rest of the writing in the novel, however, is effortless and breezes by. It’s more about the story and the characters than it is about being creative with language and wordplay, though Dashner does seem to have a great handle on creating suspense and writing riveting action sequences.

One final enjoyable piece to the novel is the strong characters presented in the boys of the Glade. I often forgot how young the character are supposed to be while reading, much like how I kept forgetting how young Katniss was during the Hunger Games, through their adult-like demeanor and strong actions. The society that these boys have built on their own through their isolation and need for leadership is somewhat reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies in a way, and their success with it over the course of two years wouldn’t be possible without the dichotomy of their chronological and subjective ages, which is partially explained in time.

At the end of The Maze Runner, we are left with feelings of hope, only to have these pushed back for an ominous tone with the short epilogue attached to the end; the epilogue presents even more questions as to the truth behind the maze, but no answers, as if James Dashner is urging you to continue with the rest of the series with this little tease. Maybe it’s not some literary masterpiece, but there are definitely some weighty societal questions presented in the pages of The Maze Runner. If you aren’t looking for that, however, the course of action of this novel is worth the read in itself, and I would definitely recommend checking it out.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

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