I have decided to make it my mission to read as many Young Adult dystopian narratives as I possibly can. Mostly because I like them, but also because I’m trying to figure out why I like them. I like them the same way I like zombie apocalypse books. There’s something super attractive about a world where most people are gone and the survivors are left to remake things the in the way they want. Or there’s the scenario where the world has been remade and it’s going to hell so it’s up to a scrappy band of teens to fix it. However, this attraction hinges on the fact that first, I’d be one of the survivors and second, I’d be in charge. Considering I’m too fat to outrun zombies and I have a constitution of about -10, it’s unlikely that I would survive any world altering destruction. But, a girl can dream…
And that brings me to my latest reading pick: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner. Amazon has been yelling at me that if I love The Hunger Games (and I do), then I would also love The Maze Runner. Amazon lies.
I didn’t hate the book, and I am reading the sequel, The Scorch Trials, right now. But The Maze Runner is no Hunger Games. In a nutshell, we have Thomas, who wakes up in an elevator, knowing nothing about his life – not even how old he is or his last name. The elevator opens on a place called The Glade, surrounded by a huge, seemingly unsolvable maze, and Thomas is roughly greeted by a group of about 50 teenage boys who have the same memory issues but have been living in The Glade for anywhere from 1 month to 2 years. They’ve built a primitive society for themselves mostly because the alternative would be to give up and cry themselves to death.
The boys don’t really pay much attention to Thomas – they get one boy in the elevator on the same day every month. This is old hat. But then, on the next day, a girl gets delivered and she has a message. Hijinks ensue.
My biggest problem with The Maze Runner is there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to Thomas or the other boys. Part of this is because none of the boys have memories from before their time in The Glade. Thomas is our point of view character and he can’t remember squat. No one can. While this is an interesting issue the characters have to face, their memory loss made it really hard for me to care about anyone.
The characters had no basis for their own personality traits, so I found it hard to care when one of them did something heroic or heinous. There were a few characters who had jumbled memories of the past after being stung by Grievers – huge nasty beasts made of blubber and needles that roamed the maze outside. However, none of these characters discuss their new found memories except in cryptic bursts of anger. At one point, Dashner suggests that the boys are unable to discuss their memories, but this seems weak since most of the boys simply seem to choose silence.
The Maze Runner had plenty of plot. I was antsy from the get go to know what was going on and who was behind this weird little civilization of teenage boys. I had a hard time putting the book down because I had to find out. But a need to know was my driving force in finishing the book, as opposed to any real concern for the characters. Serious shit goes down toward the end and Thomas has a few moments where he tries to have a personality, but it was too little too late. I really wanted to feel something, anything for these boys and one girl, and I just couldn’t.
The Maze Runner was too easy of a read. And yeah, I know it was a YA book, but YA doesn’t mean dumbed down. I just didn’t feel engaged with the characters or Dashner’s writing style. We find out that Thomas is roughly 16 years old, but Dashner’s writing makes him seem more like 12. Thomas just doesn’t have the depth of thought or reactions of a 16 year old and so at times it was hard to relate to him. I’m going to forge ahead with the other two novels in this trilogy because I do want to get to the bottom of who was behind The Glade, and because I hope Dashner grows as a writer and Thomas grows as a character. The signs of such are promising.