Friday, October 26, 2012

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Title:  The Maze Runner
Author:  James Dashner
Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Year:  2009
Pages:  374
Genre:  Dystopian Science Fiction
Themes:  Survival, Adventure
Age Range:  9th Grade and Up

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. 

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

With the enormous amount of dystopian young adult fiction out there, it is not hard to find a book or series that appeals to anyone who loves dystopian literature.  I loved the Hunger Games series, the Unwind series,  and I'm right in the thick of the Divergent series right now.  But Maze Runner fell short for me, for reasons that I'm not sure I can accurately articulate.

Part of it goes to the fact that there is a male protagonist, while most of the other books in this genre that I love (those mentioned above as well as Life As We Knew It and This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer) have female protagonists.  While I don't usually find the gender of the main character problematic, the whole feel of this book is a little testosterone heavy for me.  That said, I'm sure there are  young adult males who find the female protagonists of those other books I mentioned not a perfect fit for them.  If you are looking for a dystopian series that will appeal to male readers, then The Maze Runner and its sequels are probably a good investment.

My other issues with the book have to do with the nature of the plot itself.  It reads like a straightforward story of survival against an oppressive "other"-the Creators-but I found that I was not necessarily buying the underlying premise.  At least, not until the end, when thing started to make a bit more sense.  But even those revelations felt a bit contrived, with some deus ex machina thrown in in the form of an unknown narrator who is only present a few times throughout the book to provide some sense of what might be going on behind the scenes.  It left me feeling as though all of the heroism of the characters was for naught, since there were people behind the scenes continuing to pull their strings that they were unaware of.  

While I did not love this book, I didn't hate it either.  I suspect that there are those who follow this series as faithfully as I followed The Hunger Games or Divergent.    I think it is a good addition to a classroom library, but I'm not sure there is enough substance there to make it a good book to use in classroom discussions.

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