When Thomas and his friends escaped the Maze, they thought it was finally the end and that everything was going to get better. They couldn't have been more wrong. As they soon discover, WICKED isn't finished with them yet. They now must face phase two of the trials, except this time Teresa has been taken away and a new boy named Aris has joined the remaining Gladers. For this phase, they are given precisely two weeks to cross The Scorch, one of the most burned out areas of the World where virtually nothing still lives except those infected with the Flare. Those who are far-gone have become hideous zombie-like creatures, while those who aren't simply fight to survive another day, and both present a threat to the Gladers. As they face new challenges and fight for survival, friendships will be tested and loyalties broken, as Thomas learns that not everyone he thought was a friend can be trusted.
I just started this new-to-me YA series this year, and I have to say that so far, I'm pretty impressed. I'm not loving it quite as much as The Hunger Games, but it's still been an exciting, action-packed thrill-ride that's kept me on the edge of my seat and my brain engaged, wondering exactly what's going on and why these kids are being put through all of these Trials. Whereas the first book, The Maze Runner, was more about them figuring out how to escape the maze, The Scorch Trials is pretty much a survival story. The Gladers escaped The Maze, thinking that it was all finally over and they were safe. But they're not. It's just the beginning of yet another challenge. They're now tasked with crossing The Scorch, a stretch of land that's broiling hot and dead as far as the eye can see. They only have a limited amount of time to reach the Safe Haven on the other side of a mountain range beyond a decimated city that's now only populated with Cranks, people who are infected with a disease known as the Flare. Along the way, they'll lose comrades to various diabolical challenges, not unlike the Grievers in the Maze. But perhaps most surprising of all is that the Gladers discover they weren't the only ones who had to go through the Trials, and now Thomas, our intrepid hero, is essentially being hunted by the other group for an unknown reason. It all made for some great reading that really held my attention and kept me coming back for more.
As with the first book of the series, the entire story is told from the third-person perspective of Thomas, the main character. He was the last of the boys to enter the Glade and proved himself to be a strong leader even though he didn't entirely take up that mantle. When he awoke in the Box, headed to the Glade, he could no longer remember anything about himself or his life up to that point. After being stung by a Griever and going through the Change, he started to remember bits and pieces of his life before the Glade, but everything was still pretty murky. He begins to remember more in this volume, giving the reader a few more glimpses into his past, but his memories are still disjointed enough to not present a full picture of who he was and why he was sent into these Trials. We do know, though, that Thomas was aware of the experiment and consented to it beforehand. In fact, he may have somehow been in on the planning of it. We also learn that Thomas is an important player in the experiment, so much so that WICKED is willing to intervene on his behalf when things don't go as planned. However, most of Thomas' life and the reasons behind the Trials are still in shadow.
Thomas has an ensemble cast of secondary characters to back him up, but he interacts with different ones at different times throughout the book. As the story opens, he is still with his friends and fellow Gladers who survived the escape from the Maze. After learning of their new mission, this small band, including Minho, Newt, Frypan, and others from the Glade, as well as newcomer, Aris, but minus Teresa who's been taken elsewhere, must cross The Scorch. Aris is an intriguing character, because like Thomas and Teresa, he can communicate telepathically. On their way to the Safe Haven, the Gladers must pass through a destroyed city, where they meet two Cranks, Jorge and Brenda, who unlike many other Cranks there, are still in control of their faculties. These two help the Gladers and join them on their journey, while Brenda becomes a second possible love interest for Thomas. Along the way, they're also reunited with Teresa and a group of girls who they learn were their counterparts in a parallel experiment. But Thomas is no longer certain he can trust Teresa after she orchestrates some unexpected events.
Since this is a YA book, this is where I'll diverge for a moment to give my take, as a parent, on the book's appropriateness for a younger audience. There's very little in the way of sensuality. Thomas shares a couple of fairly chaste kisses with one of the girls and there's a small amount of very mild sexual tension between Thomas and each of the female leads. Thomas and Brenda end up at a Crank party, where they're forced to drink something presumably alcoholic that's also been laced with a drug, and we briefly see the aftereffects on the partygoers the next morning. Language is a little murkier. There are only maybe three instances of a mild profanity being used. However, there are additional instances of some British profanities, and the characters frequently use Glader slang such as shuck and klunk that stand in for actual bad words. These euphemisms may go over the heads of younger readers, but savvy teens are sure to understand the meaning behind them. What would probably be of most concern, though, is the violence. Much like in other YA post-apocalyptic science-fiction stories, these kids are put through the ringer and many of them die along the way, sometimes rather hideously. They frequently find themselves fighting for their lives against various monsters and nature itself, never quite sure who might be taken from them next, and there's a certain degree of fallout to Thomas' psyche each time one of his friends dies. He also sometimes struggles psychologically with the Trials themselves but always manages to find the strength to keep fighting. The long-gone Cranks, who've succumbed to the Flare, are basically grotesque, zombie-like creatures who apparently feed on human flesh. All of these parts of the story could be a little too scary for younger kids, so I would only recommend the book for around age thirteen and up, who aren't overly sensitive or prone to nightmares and with a recommendation of parental or educator guidance.
Overall, The Scorch Trials was another entertaining read for me in this series. In addition to the virtually non-stop action and adventure, the thing that really kept me reading was the mystery. There's the big question of who Thomas and the others were before being put through the Trials and exactly why they're being put through it. I believe the general answer lies in these experiments somehow being humanity's last hope for survival, but all the details are still yet to be revealed. Then there's also the mystery of exactly who Thomas can trust, because people he thought were friends start betraying him along the way, leaving a lot more questions in their wake as to why they're doing the things they're doing. There was at least one major event that occurred, which left me wondering what its purpose was, but since everything else is still a big question mark, I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and trust that he's going to have it all making sense by the end. And speaking of the end, I have very high hopes that the ending is going to be great. There's certainly plenty yet to reveal, and I'm very much looking forward to The Death Cure to find out exactly what's going on and who makes it to the end of this crazy test alive while hoping that it's all worth the journey.
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