Reviewed in the United States on September 14, 2014
Book Review by: Sharon Powers.
What is as fascinating and perplexing as a trip to the carnival to visit the house of mirrors? What can give the reward of a spiritual journey as you walk through a garden path or stroll through the woods? What tradition fits in with the spooky atmospheres and scary games children and adults utilize as a Halloween activity? What can be as entertaining and educational as a simple game in a Kindergartener's coloring book? And... what prize can you sometimes get from a Cracker Jack's box as a novelty and fun game calling upon your eye-hand coordination? You've probably already guessed that the answer to all the questions is, a maze.
The Museum of Unnatural History tells us that a maze is a "confusing, intricate network of winding pathways; specifically with one or more blind alleys..." and that a maze is nothing more than a puzzle that requires a solution and, therefore, "usually has a goal which is meant to be reached."
Scientists have studied rats' ability to remember the pathways needed to work their way through mazes set up to test those abilities. Scientists have tested rats utilizing rewards, such as food, no rewards, smells and various other conditions. The rats were tested to determine their spacial learning and memory. The studies conducted with rats and mazes helped scientists understand "general principles about learning" that were then applied to humans.
With a title like, The Maze Runner, we shouldn't be surprised that the characters in the novel will be faced with some kind of goal that needs to be reached and to reach that goal, they must traverse the confusing and intricate network of some kind of maze. By the title, we can assume that James Dashner wants the reader to understand what it is like to have to run a maze similar to those the scientists used to test rats abilities. The title prompts me to ask why is the runner running the maze? Is the "Runner" being tested like the scientists tested the rats? And then, almost immediately, I thought of the maze that Harry Potter (and a few other competitors) had to run, in which the runners had to face all sorts of danger and even death. To get started, let's take a look at a short synopsis of the book.
SHORT BOOK SYNOPSIS:
From the School Library Journal we find out that Thomas, the protagonist of the book, awakens to being in an enclosed space, an elevator, and that the only thing he can remember at all is his first name. Thomas is confused and panicked and he wonders where he is.
Coming out of the box, Thomas finds himself with a group of teenage boys, (he thinks) maybe 50 or 60, who look at him and call him a "klunk, shuckface." Feeling confused, Thomas hears someone say that he is now in "The Glade." Thomas asks questions and wants answers, but no one will give them to him. He wants to get away from all these boys, from his "Captors," he thought. The boys seem suspicious of Thomas, but when one boy, Chuck, is assigned to help him, he soon makes friends with him.
Thomas must adjust to the life in the Glade, an agrarian community that the boys must work hard to maintain. Life can be harsh for a "Glader"; violation of the rules can cause you to be expelled into the maze, essen- tially a death sentence. Thomas learns that the boys are looking for a way out of their prison-like environment through the maze, but after two years of searching, they are quickly losing hope.
Will Thomas and the other boys be able to figure out the secret of the maze, find out why they are captive, and who is behind all the manipulation? Will Thomas and the other boys ever have their questions answered? Suddenly, the boys are all shocked out of their complacency--everything changes. A comatose girl is delivered via the box (elevator) to the group, then the sunlight is turned off, the food deliveries stopped, and the huge gate into the maze is left opened to let the maze's monsters roam the compound. Now they have only one question: How long can they last?
Some books are literally filled with memorable quotes. In John Green's, The Fault in Our Stars, for example, there were so many that I had such a really hard time selecting just one as my favorite. This book, The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, has the opposite problem. While the prose is simple, straightforward, and eminently readable, I had a difficult time selecting a memorable quote because there were so few. In any event, I did select a quote; here it is:
Thomas swallowed, wondering how he could ever go out there. His desire to become a Runner had taken a major blow. But he had to do it. Somehow he KNEW he had to do it. It was such an odd thing to feel, especially after what he'd just seen... Thomas knew he was a smart kid-he somehow felt it in his bones. But nothing about this place made any sense. Except for one thing. He was supposed to be a Runner. Why did he feel that so strongly? And even now, after seeing what lived in the maze? (p. 39)
Thomas grapples with conflicting emotions of fear and courage in the face of his desire to become a maze Runner. He feels the strangeness of the juxtaposition of those conflicting feelings and seems to almost take a step back to observe those feelings that he longs to understand. I think many people, especially teenagers in this society, have conflicting feelings because it is so difficult to navigate through the tough teenage years and into adulthood. I am sure that even adults have conflicting emotions at times and may identify with Thomas, too. This is why I think this particular passage was so well-done.
THE MAZE RUNNER--BOOK-TO-MOVIE!
Any author should be proud of having their book come to the big-screen. Not only will Book 1 of this series be seen on the silver screen, but because the trilogy is so popular chances are better than good that we may see subsequent book-to-movies from this series.
Directing the movie is Wes Ball with writing credits going to James Dashner (book), Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin (screenplay). Dylan O'Brien will play Thomas, Ki Hong Lee will play Minho, while Aml Ameen will play Alby, Blake Cooper as Chuck, Thomas Brodie Sangster as Newt, Will Poulter as Gally, Dexter Darden as Frypan, and Kaya Scodelario as Teresa. This movie is rated PG-13.
WHAT I THINK ABOUT THIS BOOK:
WHAT WORKS FOR ME: This book's audience, geared to grades 6-10, I would say is primarily focused on boys in grades 6-10. Even so, I would not exclude girls of these ages from reading this book because I used to read stories like this when I was in middle school and high school. So, if you are a girl that likes not only dystopian novels, but one in which the protagonist is a boy, then go for it. And...girls, don't forget that the one girl in the novel is an important player!
I think young men of this age in our society face many of the feelings the protagonist feels. Young men can easily identify with feelings, say, of confusion and anger when restricted to their home or bedroom, or put on suspension by parents. Some of the themes of the book deal with imprisonment or confinement, holding cells, and unjustifiable injury, pain, and death, inflicted as a result of being confined in "The Glade."
Second, I like other themes in the book, as well: Fear and Confusion; Rules, Justice, and Judgment; Freedom, Exploration; Memory and a Loss of identity; Mystery and Secrets, Trust and Sacrifice and a real big theme, the Manipulation of the children's lives by unknown, unseen others. James Dashner has a lot going on in this book, but the one big advantage he has in addressing these themes is that with "Dystopian" novels, many of these themes are readily present.
The messages in the book seem to convey to the reader those that are typical of themes and messages found in other dystopian novels. I've reviewed a number of "dystopian" novels, two, for example, are The Giver by Lois Lowry; and Divergent by Veronica Roth (You can see those reviews and discussions of dystopian society by clicking on the links). Dystopian novels typically criticize society and the brutal methods they employ to control citizenry through usurpation of power.
Many things work for me in this book. Dashner's ability to create a mystery for not only the character in the book, but for the reader to experience, as well, is amazing. Even at the end of the book in the "Epilogue," where we learn more about the "Chancelor, Ava Paige," (and her "Associates"), mystery still pervades the story. The information we learn about what the mysterious group intends--through a "Memorandum" that the Chancelor sends to her Associates--is shocking and is, quite naturally, the springboard with which Dashner propels us into the next novel of the trilogy.
The writing style is simple and straightforward, dialog (at times) perfunctory, but effective. Style and word choice is typical for readers in this age group. Finally, since Dystopian novels are all the rage right now, it seems a great vehicle in which to write about teens struggling to survive, grow, feel safe, and be able to trust. Well-done James Dashner.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK FOR ME:
While Dashner kept the story moving well from the beginning, and showed us how intelligent teenagers can be, how innovative and courageous and capable they can be, and infuses lots of good action sequences in the story, he kind of blows it all at the end. In highschool, I was running a race in a track and field event. I was ahead and knew I would win, I crossed--what I thought was--the finish line and stopped running. It wasn't the finish line. I had made a mistake. Everyone ran passed me and I lost the race.
Up until we get to the last couple of chapters it went well, but then something happened and the story immediately lost the momentum it had all along. Those chapters are like my track and field event where I stopped running. We then get to the Epilog where the story picks up again. Shocking events propelling us into the next book are given us. Those last couple of chapters should have been cut out, entirely (of course, leaving in the Epilog). Lawyers have a saying that applies here, too. "When you've finished presenting your case, stop talking."
MY RECOMMENDATIONS AND RATING:
The intended readers for this book, as I said, above, is for grades 6-10. Many heavy-duty themes exist in this book, everything from death, mayhem and violence, societal abuse of children (including theft of children), horrible suffering of children (the change) including screaming, judgment of death by children against other children, etc. My point is, anyone who knows they are sensitive to these themes in literature should consider before they read. Parents, you know your child best, and must judge whether or not your child is mature enough to read about these themes.
That being said, many redeeming qualities exist in this book. Children will, most likely, be able to identify with certain characters or situations. Moreover, the teens in this book exhibit noble qualities, like bravery or courage, tenacity, steadfastness, intelligence, loyalty and integrity. So, a balancing of considerations may be in order. As a guideline, the movie is rated PG-13 for "thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images."
MY RATING: Because of all the reasons I have stated, above, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. If the ending had not stalled-out, I would have given the book a better rating.
Thank you for joining me this week as we got to take a look at a very exciting dystopian novel for young people grades 6-10 (or adults--after all, I enjoyed it and I'm an adult!). I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to read my book review of this trending novel that is coming to theaters September 19, 2014. Please join me again, next week as we look at another exciting new read. Have some fun this week and don't forget to read at least a little bit everyday.
Until next time...
...many happy pages of reading.
My love to you all.