Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Maze Runner Review -- Reading as a Writer

I read with the eye of a writer, and I'm sure plenty of you do. Gone are the days when I can devour fatally flawed fluff like Sweet Valley High* and sleep soundly at night. Oftentimes, I tweak books in my head as I read, deleting an adverb here, changing a character choice there, so when I find a novel that captures me as a reader AND silences that critical writer within...

Cue angelic choir and sunlight bursting through the clouds...

Well, I'm compelled to write a (spoiler-free!) review.**

Under the microscope today -- James Dashner's THE MAZE RUNNER.

Why'd I read it in the first place? I got this on audiobook from the library. I'd read positive reviews (thanks book bloggers!), and the plot definitely intrigued me.

The writer's review breakdown:
Characterization -- Thomas begins the novel waking up in an elevator, knowing nothing but his own name. This adds an intriguing layer to his personality and character development because even he doesn't know who he is, and he's continually surprised by his instincts and gut reactions to the new world around him. The environment of the book forces him to make tough decisions, and we quickly see him develop from a "newbie" to a leader.
THE MAZE RUNNER has a pretty wide cast of characters, and they're all distinct, flawed, and three-dimensional. I know from Dashner's guest post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog that this was something he'd worked on in the novel, and he definitely achieved his goal. I can't say enough about the quality of his characters.

World-Building -- The Glade and the Maze are part of the enclosed environment in which 60 or so boys (known as the Gladers) live. The first boys arrived about two years before, and the society they'd created felt very real to me, and the rules of that society made perfect sense. Dashner worked within the confines of the Glade in this book, but he threw in hints of the outside world and its current state, which will be explored throughout the rest of the trilogy.

Pacing and Plotting -- The pacing is fantastic in THE MAZE RUNNER. No scene or chapter feels like it's dragging on. From page one, you're sucked into this world and Thomas's story, and it doesn't fall flat at any point. (And let me tell you, it soooo could've fallen flat when Thomas was getting the rundown on the Glade, but nope! It didn't.) The sequence of events makes perfect sense, and Dashner wasn't afraid to put his characters through hell and make them truly earn every sliver of success. And talk about high stakes. There's a great balance of the various kinds of conflict (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, etc.), so even when the physical action slows, there's plenty of emotional drama holding your interest, and the two alternate well.

Word Choice -- Dashner's language appealed to all senses in THE MAZE RUNNER, and it allowed me to visualize everything in the Glade and pulled me into the action with Thomas. I know there were plenty of adjectives, but they didn't trigger my writer brain to mentally revise a scene, so it was the right balance for me. Also notable is the slang in the novel. The Gladers have a few words of their own, like "clunk" and "shuck," which the reader adopts along with Thomas. It reminds me of the UGLIES series in that the slang isn't overwhelming and feels natural.

Series Arc -- By the end of THE MAZE RUNNER, Dashner gives you just enough of a glimpse into the world beyond the Glade but leaves you with plenty of questions and (I'm sure) more than a few misconceptions.
I love that THE MAZE RUNNER feels like a complete novel on its own, not 300+ pages of setup for the "real" story. But never fear, there's more than enough of a hook to carry you to book two, THE SCORCH TRIALS. I have high expectations for the rest of the trilogy, especially since Dashner said in a vlog on Amazon that he wrote the first book already knowing the entire arc of the three books.

* I'm dying to read the mind candy that will be Sweet Valley Confidential.

** Previous books that have inspired this effect are THE SHIFTER, PEACE LOVE & BABY DUCKSHOW TO BE BAD, and THE HUNGER GAMES.

Anyone else read The Maze Runner? Any writerly or readerly input to add?


  1. I just finished The Maze Runner and loved it. There are some books that prompt me to pick up a pencil and jot down prophetic quotes and amazing moments - I just let this one take me on a great ride and I enjoyed every page of it.

  2. I really really enjoyed this book too! awesome review.

  3. I usually read books with a writerly eye also, mostly wanting to learn. But I forgot all about that when I read this book. I was so INTO this world. What a book! Loved it just as much as Hunger Games.
    Great review!

  4. Wow. Great review. I cannot wait to read this now.

  5. This became one of my favorite YA books after I read it. I agree with everything you said. It was amazing.

    Sorry for commenting so late. I saw this on the sidebar and couldn't resist reading. :)

  6. Alison - I like reading reviews after reading a book as much as before, just to see if reviewers had different insights into the book than I did. Glad I'm not the only one!

    Audrey - Thanks! It was such a great book.

    TerryLynn - I got so into it too! I realized how much I loved it because of how silent my writerly brain was.

    NotNessie - Glad I convinced you! It's worthy.

    KM - No worries on the late response -- I love comments, no matter when they're posted! It's actually a fun surprise for me.

  7. This is a pretty good sci fi book. Its an easy read that draws you into their world, even though it gets a little predictable at times. I've read a lot of comments saying the character development isn't the best, but given the situation in the book, theres not much room for character development right away. Its a little difficult to develop all the characters when they've had their memories altered. However, just like any series, the more you read the more insight you get to the characters as well as whats really going on. Just keep in mind that this is a trilogy, you won't get all the answers in just one book.


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