The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Random House, New York, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-385-73794-4
Thomas emerges from an underground elevator into a forest glade that’s surrounded by an enormous maze. His memory has been wiped clean, although some things in this strange new world feel familiar. The other boys trapped by the maze don’t have memories of their former lives either, but they’ve managed to create a society bound by strict rules and order. Every day, they send a team of runners out in the maze in order to map it and hopefully find an escape. Making their lives more difficult is the fact that the maze changes constantly and, oh yeah, there are giant slug like creatures called Grievers with metallic blades that will chop them up like a Cuisinart if they catch them.
Despite these dangers, Thomas feels called upon to be a runner. He is quick to make friends and enemies among the other Gladers. Some like his bravado, but others don’t trust him, thinking he was sent by the Creators to destroy them. When the Creators send a girl to the Glade with the dark message “Everything is going to change!” their world begins to do just that. Now Thomas must draw upon skills and knowledge he doesn’t even know he has in order to save himself and the boys trapped in a mysterious place that may be coming to an end.
The Maze Runner is like Lord of the Flies only where all the stranded boys work cooperatively and get along. The society they create is rule bound and highly efficient, almost harmonious except for the fact that none of them know who they are or why they can’t escape. The threat to the boys’ survival doesn’t come from within (as in Golding’s book), but from menacing slug like creatures that roam at night and cut up anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the maze after the gates close. In some ways, the whole thing can be seen as a giant metaphor about growing up, with the Grove representing the safe world of adolescence and the maze the complicated and shifty world of adulthood. Maybe it’s because I’m already an adult, but I wasn’t as freaked out by the Grievers as I wanted to be. I kept picturing them as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, only with appliances attached to his body.
This may not be as much a criticism of Dashner’s writing skill but a failure of my imagination.
What Dashner does exceptionally well is put make the reader experience the same disorientation as Thomas. We arrive in this new environment as clueless as he is and figure things out slowly. Just when things start to make sense, Dashner throws in a plot twist that complicates our experience. Look who’s just arrived! A girl! And she can communicate telepathically with Thomas! I did not see that one coming. Lucky for the reader, Dashner guides us through this maze-like plot with a sure hand so that when we arrive in the end, most of the book’s questions have been answered (the ones that aren’t are saved for the sequel.)
Information about the author
From the author’s webpage, we learn that “James Dashner is the author of the 13th Reality series. James was born and raised in Georgia, but now lives in the Rocky Mountains with his family. After several years working in finance, he is now a full-time writer.”
Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up