The Maze Runner is an engrossing tale of survival for young adults. It will bring to mind aspects of The Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, and the dystopic worlds created by China Mieville, Suzanne Collins and others that test the mettle of the participants in a fight for their lives.
The story follows a group of young teenaged boys living in “the Glade,” a large area enclosed by tall stone walls surrounded by an ivy-covered stone maze. None of them remembers anything from their lives before they got to the Glade except their first names. Each month, a large elevator-type box brings up another boy. When the book begins, the boy Thomas has just arrived at the Glade, disoriented and utterly at sea.
In the first part of The Maze Runner, we get to know about the other boys, how they exist by themselves, and how to interpret their slang, which has evolved into a language of its own. We learn which boys are the leaders, which are the bullies, and which are children who need parental love and guidance more than anything else.
Thomas discovers that every day, “runners” go out and try to solve the maze; they are all desperate to escape, even though they have no memory of the world they want to return to so ardently. (What kind of world, after all, would tear boys from their families and subject them to the Glade?) At sunset, the walls to the maze seal up, and in the morning they open again. “Grievers,” or “blood-thirsty monster guards” patrol the maze at night; the runners must get back inside the Glade each day before dark or they will never return. Somehow, Thomas knows he was meant to be a runner.
The day after Thomas arrives however, the order that has guided life in the Glade for the past two years suddenly is disrupted. First, some of the boys feel they know Thomas, but don’t know why or how. Then, the box comes back after just one day, bringing a girl, Teresa. She is the first and only girl, ever. Thomas recognizes her, but doesn’t know why. Some of the boys become suspicious of Thomas, and factions in the Glade solidify for and against him.
They all sense that things are changing, and fear and unease permeate the Glade. Thomas and Teresa are either their only hope, or a sure sign of their imminent destruction.
Evaluation: Once you get used to the slang and the set-up of the Glade, this book becomes a fast-paced heart-thumper that draws you into its alternative world. With the focus on a group of young, scared kids trying to act tough (some more successfully than others), I found my “maternal” instincts kicking into gear, fretting over the predicament of these teens, and sympathizing with the expression of their hopes and dreams and fears. The mystery of why the boys were there and what happened to their memories keeps you reading, and the scary scenes as they run the maze and fight the Grievers keeps your pulse racing.
The book is marketed for young adults, and I see no problem there. From the very beginning, Thomas is fixated on the positive goal of getting out, rather than dwelling on the impotency, despair, and cruelty of his situation. Instead of curse words, slangy euphemistic substitutes are used. Hormones seem to have passed these boys by, so there are only non-sexual thrills and chills. I enjoyed reading this book, and will undoubtedly read the sequel when it comes out.
(Note: the author has constructed the story with a sequel in mind; it “ends” only in the sense that a television series “ends” for the season. You can stop if you want, or wait for next season to find out what happens.)
Published by Delacorte Press, 2009