Friday, March 4, 2011

The Maze Runner

Series: Maze Runner Trilogy #1

Author: James Dashner

Genre: Teen (13-16 years) sci-fi dystopia

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Maze Runner:

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness.

With a jolt, the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.

Harsh sounds of chains and pulleys, like the workings of an ancient steel factory, echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls with a hollow, tinny whine. The lightless elevator swayed back and forth as it ascended, turning the boy’s stomach sour with nausea; a smell like burnt oil invaded his sense, making him feel worse. He wanted to cry, but no tears came; he could only sit there, alone, waiting.

My name is Thomas, he thought.

That . . . that was the only thing he could remember about his life.

A teenage boy who remembers nothing more of himself than his name is stranded in an isolated glade surrounded by a giant maze.

The Craft: Unpredictable and surreal. If I had to describe The Maze Runner in only a couple words, those would sum it up best. If I was allowed one more word, intense would be it.

For this book excels in the techniques of plot twists and world-building. Every time the plot even starts to make sense, it jags and turns again, much like a maze, until you lose your sense of direction. And the world it zigzags through is unlike anything you’ve seen and yet you can see it all. The characters aren’t too bad either, being complex and motivated.

Yet despite all these positive points, the story doesn’t quite hold together. There are some pacing issues, and the story loses some momentum at the end. And while the premise stirs up your curiosity, the story never quite captures the imagination.

As a result, I can easily walk away at this point, despite the unresolved end, and I greatly doubt that I will pick up the next book in the series.

The Content: The Maze Runner presents the typical mix-bag of secular novels.

On one hand, it has some good things to say about perseverance, hope, the encouragement we gain from one another, friendship/community, leadership, and sacrifice.

However, problems and gray areas exist. Though there’s little flat-out swearing (at least as we’re used to hearing it), the language of the teens is coarse and even crude. Many references and jokes are made about bodily functions. Neither is unrealistic in its depiction of a modern male teen culture, but nonetheless, it isn’t pleasant to read.

There’s also some interesting wordplay surrounding the word “wicked.” However, it’s unclear whether that wordplay is a shot at modern teen slang, a sign of our culture’s reversed morality (calling evil good and good evil), or both.

Finally, the “Creator” concept carries an analogy (probably unintentional) with some dubious implications. Because of the main protagonist’s point of view, the analogy could cast God as cold, uncaring, and manipulative. Yet there are indications this view could change in future books.

Overall, the worldview seems slightly warped.

Summary: Intense, action-packed, and unpredictable, The Maze Runner has some good things to offer in craft and content and would probably appeal to many male readers. Nevertheless, this book also has flaws and cracks. So while this may not be a story to avoid, I do not find anything in it worthwhile to recommend it either.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—2, Overall—2.5 out of 5 stars

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