Sunday, January 20, 2013

Maze Runner

A book like The Maze Runner is a rare and enjoyable find. Not only does the protagonist's adventure keep us turning page after page, but James Dashner has accomplished the greatest purpose of a good novel: to transport the reader into the book. Thomas's fears are our fears, his friends are our friends, his bravery is our bravery. James Dashner has made his science-fiction story so realistic and logical that he forces the reader to get personally involved.
            At the very beginning the book starts a psychological terror that catches the reader's attention. Thomas's observations blend realism and fantasy to replicate a nightmare. He finds himself in a large concrete courtyard ironically named the "Glade"; he has lost most of his memory and knows only impersonal facts about the world outside. He knows enough to know he shouldn't be here—but he's not alone. Fifty other boys live trapped in the giant stone walls, and their only chance of escape rests in the runners who daily explore the mazes surrounding the Glade.
            Dashner expertly twists the reality Thomas finds himself in. Within the first day of arriving no one tells him why he's there, but he knows something's wrong. The sun is more orange than he remembered. The large "shack" they live in looks as if it can hardly hold itself up, and as he disobeys orders and slips upstairs he witnesses a poisoned boy, veins green and eyes crazed, as he thrashes about in agony. In the woods Thomas spots eyes in the tree tops, and at night he watches as the enormous walls close around them and trap them inside the Glade. The other boys he encounters act as if death and suffering happen every day (and they do). Worse yet, the few people who remember their past vaguely remember Thomas—and hate him.
            Despite the fast paced plot of The Maze Runner Dashner gives the characters plenty of time to develop and grow. We find nothing unsatisfactory in Thomas. He immediately strikes us as intelligently instinctive, learning quickly what steps he needs to take in order to survive. A few days into the story when he's faced with the "Grievers", he captures all of our admiration: not only is he brilliant, but he chooses to do the right thing even when everyone else has given up. When he survives an ordeal that no one has ever survived before, he becomes the only hope for the other boys to escape the Glade.
            Thomas's first friend also proves a very important character. At first Chuck seems annoying and childish—he's the youngest of the "Gladers" and desperate to make a friend. Before Thomas arrived he cried every night. He longs to make it outside, to find his mom and to live a normal life. Thomas realizes that Chuck should not have experienced the cruelty of the Glade, and he promises the boy to bring him back to his family. Dashner sums up Chuck's importance to Thomas perfectly: "Chuck had become a symbol for him—a beacon that somehow they could make everything right again in the world."  Chuck proves an important key for developing Thomas's personality and giving him something to fight for.
            The Maze Runner's secondary characters have unique rolls and personalities: Alby, the leader of the Gladers who could sacrifice anything and everything for their survival, Newt, "a loose cannon" with a sharp tongue, and the girl, Teresa, who shows up after Thomas arrives. Teresa and Thomas are able to telepath and she proves a valuable source of information. Minho, Thomas's friend and fellow runner, witnesses his honesty firsthand and supports his decisions throughout the book.
            Although Dashner develops his protagonists exceptionally, his antagonists deserve some tweaking. Both he and Paolini need to realize that giant killer-snails are probably the least frightening monsters created, no matter how violent and deathly they are. His main antagonists, the Creators of the Glade, are a much more significant and sinister enemy than anything else that Thomas encounters, but they never reach a personal level.
            Since Thomas knows nothing about where he came from, the book flows smoothly and gives off an extra edge of suspense. Every question Thomas has is our question, while Thomas has no need to pause and explain facts to us since he knows no more than we do. Although Dashner's writing can be a little draining at times, his purpose ultimately hits home. Often he repeats jokes, sayings, explanations and descriptions that we've already grasped, and some of his transitions are unrealistically convenient, but despite his small mistakes he dominates his work with a well-refined style and plot. He always keeps the reader hanging, but he doesn't fail to trick him a few times.
            To see children used like intelligent rats in a maze makes us realize not only something about the characters but something about mankind. Many novels like Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, and Oliver Twist use childhood as a representation of simplified humanity. As one of my friends put it, "Kids are just adults with less self-control." In The Maze Runner we observe three kinds of boys: those who know there's a way out but are too afraid to find it, those who know there's a way out and will do anything to find it, and those who have lost hope and try to make do with what they have. Even in the direst of situations, there is still hope for those who want it, but Dashner's story makes us question whether desire for freedom proved better than simply giving up and dying. I'm sure Dashner will pick up this string in his later books.
            The Maze Runner presents a puzzle, a puzzle that's unsolvable and deadly. Dashner leaves us with so many questions: was Thomas a good guy or a bad guy before he arrived? What is the "Changing"? Can the Gladers solve the maze?  The suspense engrosses the reader as he hopes against hope that Thomas will be able to escape.

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