When you’re training for a half-marathon, there’s something fabulously appropriate about reading a book whose main foil is an unsolvable maze populated by murderous robot slugs. Even if that book reads like it’s meant for someone 15 years your junior. Even if that’s because, in fact, it is.
Someone mentioned The Maze Runner to me months ago, probably in the midst of a me-initiated conversation about dystopian young adult fiction, for which I have an affinity. “Teenagers Fight to Survive Against Unseen All-Powerful Forces” is one of my favorite sections in the bookstore.
Nor does it hurt that TMR already has a movie adaptation in the works, slated for release in September and starring Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien, who I hereby dub the world’s next Adam Brody. As far as suggestible and easily enamored 12- to 17-year-olds go—and intellectually lazy 28-year-olds—The Maze Runner has all the makings of a runaway success. MOVE OVER, PEETA.
The gist is this: Thomas wakes up in The Box, a dark metal container that delivers him to The Glade, a clearing at the center of maze in which a group of young-to-teenage boys has been living for nearly two years, trying to solve said maze in the hopes of escaping. None of the boys, including Thomas, remember what’s outside The Glade, or who they are, and each month a new boy arrives. Until one day a girl shows up in The Box, bearing a message: She’ll be the last.
The maze itself is massive, and during the day nonthreatening enough that a team of boys systematically runs through it looking for clues and mapping changes in the walls that occur overnight. At night, the doors separating The Glade from the maze close, and anyone caught on the wrong side of those doors is as good as dead: The maze is home to the seemingly nocturnal Grievers, mechanical ..worm…things…hellbent on killing off Gladers. All in all, it’s pretty bizarre—very Ender’s Game meets Lord of the Flies, with a little villainous steampunk thrown in for good measure.
In your typical “bunch of dudes stuck together in a life-or-death situation” novel, the focal point ends up being the dudes themselves: what fear does to them, how they turn on each other, how they kill their weakest, fattest, blindest peer with a boulder. But The Gladers have a pretty stable existence. The true source of injustice in TMR is the Creators, which is how the boys refer to the hypothetical people who put them in the maze, people who watch them and provide supplies and new bodies but never a way out.
It doesn’t feel like a reach to say TMR is about life itself: pain, hope, the necessity of order, the desire for freedom. The boys’ curiosity about—and anger at—the Creators is a crisis of faith, and represents a broader desire to understand The Meaning of It All. (The mechanical worm things, though: no idea.) It’s just unfortunate for the themes raised in The Maze Runner that its execution is so mediocre. Thomas is a pretty blah frontman (to be expected from someone who forgets their own identity) and his perspective on things can grow a little tiring. Mostly though, TMR rests on its concept, laying out an A- minus dystopia with C+ writing.
Of course, I’d rather teenagers read the back of the cereal box between rounds of Halo than read nothing at all, and as popular YA goes, The Maze Runner fits the bill. I hope the movie spikes sales, and all those enamored teens and pre-teens go on to read the other few novels in the series (I just can’t). But I would love, love, to read a dystopian young adult novel that challenges kids’ brains as much as their minds—teaches them some big life lessons with some equally big words. Like a Super Sad True Love Story for the Belieber set.
If you’re an adult—like you run errands on Sundays and do the crossword puzzle and own an iron—The Maze Runner is probably not for you. It’s fun and silly and a third of the way in I was kind of over it but too principled to drop it for something else. But if you’re an unabashed fan of the teen trend towards end-of-the-world fiction, TMR is a logical addition to the canon. Plus I bet the movie will be pretty dope.
TITLE: The Maze Runner
AUTHOR: James Dashner
PAGES: 375 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure
SORTA LIKE: Ender’s Game meets Lord of the Flies
FIRST LINE: “He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.”