Young Thomas awakens in an elevator with no memory of anything except his name. When the lift reaches its destination, he finds himself surrounded by dozens of other teenage boys. They live and work in a verdant area known as the Glade. Inside the walls that surround the Glade, they're safe from harm, but outside the walls lies an expansive, ever-changing maze filled with the kind of monsters Thomas has only seen in his nightmares. Every day, Runners go into the Maze, looking for a way out, but in two years, no one has ever solved the puzzle and several have died along the way. For reasons he cannot explain, Thomas feels drawn to the Maze and wants to become a Runner, but the boys in charge say it will be a long time before that happens. Then a girl shows up in the lift, the first ever to come to the Glade. She brings with her an ominous message. And then everything in the Glade begins to change...
The Maze Runner is a YA, post-apocalyptic, dystopian story in much the same vein as The Hunger Games or Divergent. The main difference, though, is that with those stories, particularly The Hunger Games, the reader knows what the characters' main objective is right from the start and it's just a matter of them reaching their goals. In The Maze Runner, Thomas, the main character, has no idea who he really is or why he was sent to the Glade. Also, no one who lives there has any idea what the Maze is all about, how to solve it, or if there even is a solution. This gave the book an air of mystery and suspense throughout that kept me reading and coming back for more. A couple of times, I figured things out before the kids did, which made those parts ever so slightly predictable. I also remember coming up with questions on occasion, some of which were answered and others that I don't think were. For this reason, if a reader really wanted to deeply scrutinize this story, they could probably come up with some things to complain about. However, I found myself quickly forgetting my ruminations not long after they occurred to me, simply because the book was so darn entertaining. I couldn't help wanting to know what was going on, since the reader is every bit as much in the dark as Thomas is, and I couldn't wait for him to uncover the next piece of the puzzle. Not everything is revealed by the end, so even if I wasn't a latecomer to the series, I'd know that a sequel was in the works. And that little bit of mystery that's left at the end makes me eager to read the next book soon.
Thomas is the main character and third-person narrator of the story. It begins with him waking up in a metal box which he quickly realizes is an elevator. Aside from his name and basic knowledge of the world around him, he has no memory of who he is, where he came from, or how he ended up in this predicament. When the Box finally stops, he has arrived in a place called the Glade, where about fifty other boys work and live. None of them remember their lives before the Glade either. They just keep going through the same motions every single day, with one of those daily activities being that some of the boys go out into the Maze surrounding the Glade, searching for a way out. Unfortunately a few of them have been there for two years and still haven't had any success in solving the maze. Plus the stakes are raised by the horrific monsters known as Grievers who live in the Maze that have either killed or "stung" several boys who came before Thomas. Although he has no idea why, Thomas longs to become a Runner, one of the boys who run the maze every day, from the moment he arrives in the Glade.
I really liked Thomas. He's a smart kid who helps the Gladers figure out some things they might not have without him. He has a curious nature that serves him well in many ways, although it can be frustrating for him (and me too :-)) when the Keepers, the boys who are in charge of each area of the Glade, refuse to answer his questions. Thomas is also very intuitive about a number of things, which when added to his intelligence and curiosity, makes him a mentally well-rounded character. On top of that, he's quite brave, daring to do things that the others are afraid to attempt. He's also a natural born leader, stepping up to the plate on more than one occasion to kind of take charge - I say "kind of" only because he's not an official Keeper - but ultimately, he's the person who finally helps them solve the puzzle that's been plaguing them for so long. I also like that Thomas is an emotionally balanced character. He's tough and strong when he needs to be, but he shows emotion when it's appropriate to do so rather than trying to hide his feelings. I also like how protective he is of Teresa when she becomes the first girl to enter the Glade. Overall, Thomas is a great friend and an all-around stand-up guy.
Thomas may be the main hero of the story, but there are plenty of supporting characters he meets along the way who play important roles, too. There's Alby and Newt, who are both Keepers, but who are also the de facto co-leaders of the Gladers. Alby can be a bit abrasive at times, which doesn't endear him to Thomas, but unlike some of the others, he can be reasonable. Newt is a little more of a peace-keeper who Thomas looks to for guidance and who sees the potential in Thomas. Chuck becomes Thomas' younger shadow and their easy friendship makes them seem more like brothers. Gally, one of the Keepers, is confrontational from the start. He was "stung" by a Griever, which changed him, but most seem to agree that he wasn't particularly easy to get along with even before that. There's Minho, the Keeper of the Runners, who has no trouble believing in Thomas after Thomas saves his life. And then there's Teresa, who not only shakes things up by being the first girl in the Glade, but after she arrives, everything about the Glade starts to change, leaving several Gladers thinking that she had something to do with it.
From a parental perspective, I feel that the book is fine for its intended audience. Although a few of the boys make some slightly objectifying comments about Teresa after she arrives, nothing untoward happens. Although Thomas has feelings for her that seem to be reciprocated, there's no sensuality of any kind, not even kissing. The language issue is somewhat murky. While there are no genuine bad words from American English, the author does use a couple of moderate British profanities (bloody and bugger) as well as a few slang and euphemistic words (eg. shuck and klunk) that stand in for real bad words. These are peppered throughout and the Gladers sometimes use them as insults toward each other, but since they aren't actual profanities, I'm inclined to mostly give them a pass. Savvy young people will probably figure out the meanings anyway, but they might go over the heads of younger readers. That leaves only the violence, which I would say is on par with The Hunger Games or Divergent, as a possible detractor. The kids engage in a couple of bloody battles with the Grievers, and what the Griever venom does to a person when they get "stung," can be pretty grotesque. Thomas learns of the boys who previously died in the Glade, one of whom was sliced in half. Along the way, some characters we meet also die, including ones that readers will likely come to care about. Overall, though, it's not too bad, definitely no worse than a PG-13 movie, so I'd say that it's perfectly acceptable for a teenage audience, and I might possibly even say it's OK for middle-school aged kids with some mild reservations and a recommendation of parental or educator guidance.
IMHO, The Maze Runner was an excellent story that's bound to get kids reading with its fast-paced action and adventure, as well as keep them reading with its mystery and suspense. With its male-centric perspective, I think it would especially appeal to boys, but I'm sure many girls will like it, too, since I did. I was particularly impressed with the diversity of the characters, who come from different races and backgrounds (what little we know of them anyway). I think there are also some lessons to be gleaned from the way the Gladers must pull together and work as a team, as well as a couple of characters' selfless sacrifices. They also exhibited persistence in not giving up on solving the Maze, even though no one had been able to figure it out in two long years, and in spite of the frustrations of not knowing exactly who they were or why they were there. So, overall, The Maze Runner was a great story that's left me eager to dive into The Scorch Trials to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes.
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