The Maze Runner
by James Dashner
So I picked this book up because my students kept reading it for book projects, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about –and not just from my students; there’s a list of accolades the book and series have earned right inside the front cover. Unfortunately, this may be the book that makes me lose faith in — no, wait. It was a NYT bestseller, but I already knew those weren’t all good . . . it was made into a successful movie, but that says nothing about the book . . . it was named a Best Teen Book, but by Kirkus Reviews, which I already lost faith in . . . and I already knew my students have frequently bad taste in books — okay, never mind; I haven’t lost any faith. I just need to read the blurbs and awards a little more carefully. I thought reliable people were of the opinion that this is a good book.
It’s not terrible; the idea is interesting, the action is pretty good. But the writing is mediocre, the interesting idea requires far too many shortcuts and McGuffin miracles (That’s when a fantasy/sci-fi story has an insoluble problem, and they find a thing that simply solves the problem; that thing is the McGuffin. Star Trek does it almost every episode.), and the ending is a deep cliffhanger. It reminds me quite a lot of Hugh Howey’s Wool, which was pretty much the same, and which had equivalent commercial success despite its flaws; it makes me wonder if this is the new trend in science fiction, to world-build with more imagination than logic.
So you have these kids who are stuck in this maze. The maze has these monsters in it, that come out mostly at night; also at night, the center of the maze, where the kids are, is safely locked away from the maze. So every day these kids go out and run through the maze, trying to find a path to safety, a solution to the maze, a way out of the whole ordeal. Maze runners. Meanwhile, in the safe place in the center of the maze, the kids are proving that The Lord of the Flies wasn’t always right: they have created a highly organized and successful society, populated only by 17-and-under boys, in which pretty much everyone follows the rules, has a job, does their job, and is satisfied with their lot in life. It’s almost Utopian. Of course, the kids want to get out of the maze, but they’re not really sure why: because they don’t have many memories from before they got into the maze. They have some — they know their names, for instance — but not many.
Two years after these kids start trying to escape the maze, Thomas arrives. Thomas remembers a few more things than the other kids. Thomas is followed quickly by a girl — the only girl, named Teresa — who remembers a few more things than Thomas. It seems the people who put the kids in the maze, and who wipe their memories in this very specific and precise way before depositing them in the maze, want to change the situation. But only a little. And so Thomas, who spends most of his time being angry with everything around him, manages to change the society that has been so carefully and successfully created, and tries to lead the kids out of the maze.
How does it end? Why were they in the maze in the first place? Why does the situation change, but only enough to send Thomas and Teresa with a couple of clues, rather than just opening a door out of the maze? Who are these kids, and where do they come from? Believe me: you really honestly don’t want to know. Whatever enjoyment I got out of the book was pretty much ruined by the revelations at the end.
I would not recommend this book. And I’m going to stop letting my students read it for class. There are too many good books out there to waste time on this one.