Read: April 2014
Author: James Dashner
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 374 (hardcover)
Selected By: BillMo
“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 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.” – from the author’s website.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about this book when I chose it as Gigglemug’s April selection; what I did know is that I’m a fan of the actor who’s been chosen to play Thomas in the upcoming movie. But I’m pleasantly surprised – it wasn’t a great book, but it was a fairly good one. I wouldn’t necessarily compare it to The Hunger Games or Ender’s Game, both of which were excellent books, but I found The Maze Runner to be fast-paced and thought the concept was good…
The problem, though, was in the delivery. I liked the Glade and the supporting characters, but I felt disconnected when it came to Thomas and thought more could have been done to build up the characters I did like (such as Frypan, Winston, Chuck, and Newt). I didn’t care for Teresa at all; I’m sick of girls being inserted into YA novels simply to serve as romantic interests, and I’m tired of superficial, useless-to-the-plot relationships being tucked into books for no purpose; it would have been more interesting if she’d never come out of her coma at all… or if they’d turned out to be brother and sister (I’m thinking more along the lines of Luke & Leia than Jamie & Cersei Lannister – ugh!!!).
Also, there were quite a few plot holes. First, the book was called The Maze Runner, which would lead one to believe that there is going to be quite a bit about a maze and possibly a lot of running involved, as well. Before I started reading, I was expecting something akin to the maze found in Harry Potter’s Triwizard Tournament… But what I got was a disappointing couple of days, one of which was spent meandering and the other of which was where the “running” came into play. So, all in all, the whole “Maze” and “Runner” thing was a bit of a let-down. I also couldn’t understand why Thomas, while in search of answers that could only be found tangled within his missing memories, elected to be stabbed by the Grievers rather than just testing the serum itself. And the finale… (insert sigh here)… long story short, there really was no finale.
I guess in the end I was just expecting so much more. I’m working on the second book of the series (The Scorch Trials), and I will finish it… but even this far into the second one, I’m still a little disappointed in the way it’s being handled. It just seems like it could be so, so, so much more…
And then it isn’t.
But look for my review of the remainder of the series once I’ve finished the trilogy.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify?: Frypan.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
In the end, what stands out to me about this novel was its poor character development. Like the other Ladies, I thought the concept was intriguing, but I’m going to have to disagree with BillMo: I don’t think it was plot holes that brought this baby down… it was the fact that there was no plot to speak of. Bad things kept happening, but (even right up to the end) there were no lasting victories to give readers a sense that something was being accomplished.
Unlike Lady Esbe and Elle Tea, I did like Dashner’s writing style. I thought it was a quick read and the pace of the first half of the book was quite fast (though the last half did abruptly fizzle away). But this sort of YA novel has been done before – and done bigger and better, with characters we as readers actually cared about and solid plots and storylines that have some sense of purpose and progression (such as The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Lord of the Flies, etc.).
I didn’t have much of a problem with Thomas, but I found that I really couldn’t bring myself to care about Teresa – I didn’t know anything about her that might make me care about what happened to her. And the same goes for so many other potentially excellent characters: Newt, Alby, Gally, Ben, Chuck, Frypan, Winston… I wanted to know more about each of them, to be given more, shown more about each of them – even in the context of the society they created in the Glade – but we’re given nothing. It was like trying to care about the life story of a stranger, when all you’ve been given to assist you in relating to them is a photograph of the back of their head.
I’ve read Book 2 of this series (Scorch Trials), and my opinion regarding plot, progression, and character development remains unchanged. I feel like I still don’t know a thing about what’s going on, and I’m still left asking, “But what is the purpose?” So, I’m not going to read the third book; I’ll fall in with Elle Tea here and wait for BillMo to let me know how it all turns out – and maybe she can tell us in a few weeks what all of those tests and variables were supposed to accomplish!
With Which Character Did You Most Identify?: Newt.
The Divine Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I can honestly say I was intrigued and very curious as to the outcome when I began reading this book. I started to think this could be an amalgamation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Hugh Howey’s Wool. Unfortunately, this book fell far below those novels and that’s simply because there is no character development. Most of the characters in this are one dimensional and offer no growth during the course of the novel, even as they push on to the climax and resolution of the Glade inhabitant’s dilemma.
Most of the book takes place in the Glade, which seems to be a pleasant enough community of preteen and teenage boys. These boys have organized, rather effectively, a community that functions about as well as any village with a hospital (of sorts), a stable and butchery, kitchen/cafeteria, a gardening division, a small prison and the Runners (the expeditionary group if you will). Each group plays an integral part of the survival of all the inhabitants of the Glade. The boys find themselves with no memories off their past upon arrival into the Glade. Yet, that does not stop them from organizing to determine who would be most suited for which task. It works, in theory. However, the Glade appears to be set in the center of an ever changing Maze. The Runners explore this daily, attempting to find a way out of this bizarre but relatively safe haven. The Maze itself has it’s perils, a strange mechanical and biological organism called Grievers that tend to strike terror amongst the Glade inhabitants.
The story follows Thomas, our hero of the novel. Thomas is a young man who is trying to be the best he can be. He’s stubborn, and his thought processes don’t go much beyond what he wants or wants to achieve. With no memories of his life, or knowledge of his present situation, Thomas’ desire to understand the world into which he is thrust only makes sense if you plan to acclimate or circumvent it. His willingness to question everything only makes sense in surviving his situation and rising to the status of a leader. His is a picture of bravery and cowardice in one person. While his actions of aiding Alby and Minho are applause worthy and his innate ability to become a runner are testaments to his bravery and abilities in the early portions of the book; he is equally cowardly in not owning up, immediately, to his flaws or perceived wrongs that he committed prior to entering the Glade. I’m not saying that I dislike Thomas, but there are as many times that I feel annoyed with him as I feel pleased by him.
Alby, the “leader” of the Gladers is a study in hostility and fear. He is able to get the Gladers to follow him because being one of the initial inhabitants or prisoners of the Glade (tomato, tomahto). He rules gruffly, but with logic. However, as the novel progresses, his encounter with Grievers puts his mental stability at stake and his leadership in question. His leadership is never questioned by the remainder of the Gladers but despite his compromised status.
Newt, our second in command, is an ex-runner who seems to be the most reasonable of the Glade inhabitants. He’s willing to listen, leads without having to be asked and seems to fall on the right side of an argument no matter who and what is involved. Newt grasps the little nuances and is able to lead by example with diplomacy and maintaining decorum. He does have his occasional hot head moments, but it’s justified and you can count on Newt to be steady.
Chuck. He’s the slightly annoying but more lovable younger brother type of character. His constant yammering could be annoying but for the relief it gives you of the internal and external whining of Thomas. He’s the character you want to protect and throttle at the same time. He’s a willing and loyal to the newcomer Thomas. Whether Chuck has a purpose other than to drone on at times, it’s lost until the end. Perhaps.
Minho is our not quite fearless leader of the Runners. He’s good at his job and surviving on a daily basis. However, early in the novel you find yourself cursing his name. He takes Thomas under his wing and teaches him what it takes to be a runner and is integral at the end of the novel for any and all plans the Gladers must carry out. His intelligence and unwillingness to back down from a fight grows more as the novel progresses. Like Newt, you are thankful for Minho’s stability.
What’s a novel without at least one character that you want to pummel? In this case, it’s Gally. His open hostility for anyone, especially Thomas, makes you question, will there always be someone who must be a douchebag for the sake of being a douchebag? Gally asks some valid questions, but his behavior tends to lend itself for others to dismiss his very real and valid concerns. Temper tantrums and bad behavior gets us nowhere fast with Gally. Contrary for the sake of being contrary is what you get from him.
In a place inhabited by only boys, we get the startling appearance of Teresa. She’s pretty much useless but for a few warnings and insightful musings here and there. As useless as Chuck is, Teresa is running a close second. She is telepathically linked to Thomas and reasonably intelligent. However, her insights are usually only echoing Thomas’s and to me, other than to give him a sounding board, she’s usually a little late to the party. Hell, even Chuck had to come to her aide mentally. I almost feel like she was a weak attempt at either trying to bring a female presence or worse, give Thomas someone to have a love affair with or make Thomas feel better about himself. She’s not my least favorite character in the book, but I am disappointed by her rather ineffectual presence.
The rise to the climax kept me intrigued and on the edge of my seat for a period and then it just lulled along. Had the author taken measures to build the characters, make them endearing or severely hated rather than just plopping them down on paper and making them fairly one-dimensional, I’d be interested in reading the next installment.
As it stands, it was a palatable read, but it doesn’t inspire me to want to see the film version or see what’s in store for the characters beyond what happens in this book, and I hate that. It had the potential but I feel that James Dashner didn’t do enough to make me question what was happening enough to want more answers.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify?: Newt.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
The Maze Runner is supposed to be a tale of a post-apocalyptic dystopia riddled with mystery and intrigue, but by the time I was done, the only mystery I couldn’t solve was why this is being compared to The Hunger Games. My overall impression of this novel was that it was a bit of The Cube mixed with Lord of the Flies, then when it got to the end, it became Lost – without the clever mathematics, character development, or ingenuity of any of those. The concept of the book is the only reason I didn’t give it one star rather than two.
The pace, which started off a little slow, gathered steam until it seemed ready to take off and launch itself into something fantastic, and I excitedly read on, driven by an overwhelming desire to know where the plot would take me. By the time I was about 30% done, I had such high hopes – it could have gone in so many directions… and then…
It just… didn’t. It dragged out until the psychological mystique faded and I felt propelled forward simply by the author withholding information for two-hundred-plus pages until the whole thing unraveled into a predictable mess of spoiled possibilities. The only reason I wanted to finish it was because I wanted to know if my guesses about what might have been going on were correct or not. Two-hundred pages later, and I still have no idea; as both Ms. Em and BillMo stated, there was no resolution. It was all just a long prologue to Book 2.
I don’t typically care much for authors who drag their readers through their books; I like to be shown why something or someone is a certain way, not told. But there are still authors with enough skill to lay everything out for us and still manage to keep us engaged; it’s unfortunate that as far as The Maze-Runner is concerned, I don’t feel this is the case.
The most glaring way this failed me as a reader is that at no point could I relate to the boy whose viewpoint we are forced to follow. Yes, I understand that Thomas is a teenage boy in a frightening and impossible scenario. It is spelled out repeatedly that Thomas is angry, he is frightened, he is confused and feels that he’s not being given a chance to unleash his full potential. We are told this, over and over, throughout the book… but at no point does he “feel” like anything more to me than an empty shell filled with kiddy behavior, stomping around with his fists at his side screaming, “It’s not fair! I wanna try! Lemme do it!” Even this would be acceptable if Thomas began this way but grows as he is given more responsibility, as he is recognized for his prowess and given the credit he feels he is due, as he is shoved to the front of this ragtag group of quasi-heroes; unfortunately, this is not the case – there is zero character development, and Thomas, who begins the novel as an unlikeable brat, only becomes more unlikeable and bratty. The way our hero begins the novel is pretty much the way he ends it, and that’s that.
The mystery that follows the appearance of the novel’s only main female character gave way to dull disappointment. Her most intriguing contributions happen while she is in a coma; unfortunately, after she awakes, she rapidly morphs into a one-dimensional pile of ruined possibilities whose greatest assets are her gender and long legs. Even the odd “gift” shared by her and our protagonist seems like a cop-out; it has no real purpose and seems as if it is thrown in simply to explain some loose threads in the plot – like the author wanted to have certain things happen throughout the novel but couldn’t find a way to make them work.
The Rest of the Boys are pretty much what you’d expect, and you feel about them the same way you’ve felt about every generic side character in every B-movie ever made. There is Chuck, the fat and loveable sidekick; Newt, the loyal and reliable second-in-command; Minho, the hotshot who gracefully bows before our hero’s superior prowess; Gally, the hot-headed, impetuous bully. Down to the last, they are flat, hollow characters – whether they lived or died had very little impact on me at all.
This brings me to our main villain focus for the novel, the Grievers. We are told they are dangerous, we are told that they are the biggest threat the boys face within the Maze… and by the time we see them… Well, I’ll be honest, the Swiss-Army-knife-blob thing they had going on struck me as a little silly. And it never was clear to me why the Grievers, who clearly have the ability to climb the Walls – which serve as the sole protection the boys have against these nocturnal child-killing slugs – simply don’t; I mean, yes, knowing what we know later on, we can say, “Well, they probably weren’t programmed that way.” And I’ll accept that argument and ask you this, then: why do the boys – who we are told have “thought through all possible scenarios” – never seem to question the fact that their only real enemy never breaches their defenses, though they have clearly demonstrated that they have had the ability to do so at any time? That would raise some serious red flags for me. Not only that, but they never even mention it.
There was so much set up in the beginning – so many possibilities, so many opportunities… and it is clear that there were too many for even the author to handle. In my mind, if you’re going to write a book from a first-person perspective about a group of boys with selective amnesia, the only real way to show your readers these characters’ personalities and motives is to have their actions viewed by your protagonist, to have conversations about something, about anything. But the dialogue and altercations in The Maze Runner essentially amount to, “What’s going on?” “Stop asking so many questions!” ; “Where are we?” “Shut up!”; “Can I help out?” “No! Shut up!” In the end, when solutions have to start making an appearance to balance out the mysteries surrounding everything around our protagonist, we are handed an impossibly ridiculous advantage – the aforementioned “gift” which serves no purpose other than to make it possible for an unlikely scenario to play out to its inevitable conclusion. I mean… really. It’s the sort of gimmick I’d expect to see in daytime soap operas.
These boys, again, have had years to think “through all possible scenarios,” and yet not a one among them ever paused to consider the option presented by Thomas, who in just a few days comes up with an odd solution that is pretty glaringly obvious – and I, like BillMo, found myself wondering why he couldn’t just take the serum rather than allowing himself to be stabbed by a Griever. Regardless of how he did it, when the truth becomes known, all of the mystery behind the Maze deflates, and it essentially becomes nothing more than a funhouse. The maze in Labyrinth was more mysterious and entertaining than this… and probably scarier, too (j/k).
Truth be told, until the “gift” twist showed up, I wanted to know what was going on badly enough to read the next book(s) in this series. But I’m not a fan of gimmicks, and I can’t help but feel as if this entire first novel was one big cliffhanger, setting us up to buy the rest of the books in this series. But by refraining from developing characters more thoroughly in this first novel – and this is assuming they’re fleshed out later on in the series – I really can’t bring myself to care one way or the other about what happens to Thomas or any of the others. Sure, I’d like to know, just because I personally hate not knowing… but that need to know isn’t enough to drive me to read any more. If you give me a couple of characters to care about, I’ll follow a bad protagonist anywhere for at least a decade (see here)… but if all you’ve got for me is The Sidekick, The Lieutenant, The Hotshot, and The Nemesis, well, I’m going to have to pass.
I took some heat for some of my opinions about this novel while we were reading it, and I’m sure some of you are thinking the same thing that was said to me: that this is a YA novel and shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Here’s my thinking on that, though: at what point did the YA classification become an excuse for sloppy writing? Young Adult should not be synonymous with Shoddy Plotlines & Bad Dialogue; just because it is intended for a young audience doesn’t make it okay for a book that tries so hard to fill Katniss’s vastly superior shoes to end up like a cartoon. Young people are the target audience for the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games series, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Book Thief, The Ender Quartet, and the aforementioned Lord of the Flies – all of these are clever, successful, original novels that never stoop to gimmicks and which draw you in, immerse you in a world, and make you care about the characters who reside within their pages.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify?: Newt.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.