“Drama Queen,” the thirteen-year-old I watch/drive around was the first one to recommend The Hunger Games to me. So when she recommended a book called The Maze Runner by James Dashner, I definitely trusted her judgment. And as pathetic as it might seem that I share the same basic literary tastes as a thirteen-year-old, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Maze Runner. The two sequels, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, were also highly enjoyable.
The trilogy is definitely dystopian, although that is not clear in the beginning. In fact, it took me a while to get into the story because I wasn’t sure where it was going. But Dashner did an excellent job of setting up the plot. It begins with the main character of Thomas, whose only memory is his first name. He arrives in an enclosed community called the Glade, where the population consists of several other teenage boys who also have no memory of their lives before they arrived at the Glade. Adjacent to the Glade is a dangerous maze, which is believed to hold the key to their captivity. The arrival of the first girl (Teresa) in the Glade triggers several events that might lead to their freedom, but her arrival also triggers memories in Thomas, which suggest that the world beyond the maze might not be what they expect. Lurking behind it all is a mysterious organization called WICKED, which Teresa claims is good—but Thomas isn’t so sure.
Perhaps one of the marks of a good dystopian novel is that it’s a bit disturbing—in a good way. I haven’t been kept awake by a book since I finished reading The Hunger Games series, but I found myself thinking about these books long after turning out the light. I wondered why the characters were acting the way that they were. I wondered how the characters might feel about the difficult decisions they had made or were about to make. I wondered what the characters were going to do next, what was going to happen to them. Dashner definitely kept me guessing throughout the series, often surprising me. In fact, at the end of the first book, I found myself staring in disbelief at the last page, absolutely shocked at the turn the story had taken. Dashner knows how to write a good cliff-hanger; he has a gift for suspenseful writing.
This gift was also evident in the many exciting action scenes that took place throughout the series. I often found myself on the metaphorical “edge of my seat” while Thomas and his friends encountered monsters in the maze, zombie-like creatures in an abandoned city, or (most frightening and disturbing of all) average humans who were capable of unspeakable cruelty. It was hard to tell who was a “good guy” or “bad guy” in this series. While that much mystery would typically bother me, I was intrigued by Dashner’s ability to make me repeatedly question whether or not I liked a character.
There were things I didn’t like about the plot—but mainly these were surface things, like not wanting a certain character to die, or not wanting the story to take off in a grim direction. But the darker aspects provided a realism that I can definitely appreciate and admire. Dashner crafted a story that was thought-provoking, exciting, and three-dimensional. His characters were not what one might always want or expect—they were human, with good qualities and bad. And somehow I think that message might have been an underlying theme of the whole series. We’re all human. We are all capable of noble things, but we’re also very capable of evil. Those were the thoughts that kept me up at night.
There is no sex and only light profanity in The Maze Runner series, but due to violence and disturbing/intense imagery, I highly recommend this series only for mid-to-older teenagers and adults. Despite the fact that a thirteen-year-old got me hooked on it, I think the younger teenagers should wait a few years.
I also want to point out that while girls will probably appreciate this story, it seems more geared towards boys. There aren’t enough stories out there specifically for teenage guys, so if you’re a parent of boys, I’d check these out. And if you live in Wake County and use their library system, go ahead and get put on the reserve list for The Maze Runner, because it took me almost two months to get it! The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure were both ready within a week of my reservation.