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Review & Discussion: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
SciFi Element: Futuristic, Apocalypse
Series: Maze Runner #1
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Audiobook Review copy bought at

There was much hype surrounding The Maze Runner upon it’s release in 2009. I had been slavering to read it also, especially after seeing the “movie” promo that coincided with it’s release. Quite compelling. But, did the book live up to the hype? It was good, yes, but did I run out and scream at literate people to read the book? No. I really think I did this one an injustice by listening to it on audio book while reading Divergent in book format. The Maze Runner just paled in comparison. The Maze Runner had an excellent and compelling story backing it, had worthy characters backing up the competent writing and even left me a little breathless in certain places, but it just didn’t have that little extra that made it a great dystopian.


Thomas comes to consciousness in an elevator. He is pulled into a fake world, greeted by dirty boys his age that look at him either with eagerness, as if he were a new puppy, or with distrust and open hatred. They talk strangely, using slang words he hasn’t heard before and treat him as if he is an annoyance. Their attitude is "catch up quickly or die" and as night falls and screams can be heard from the only structure in this strange clearing, Thomas knows something is really wrong with his new world.

Thomas’ new world is surrounded by walls and a maze. There is no way out, but it doesn’t stop the boys from trying desperately to find their way out. There are heinous creatures that occupy his world. Bulbous and hideous creatures that stab you with needles or drag you away into the night. If you survive their attack you become infected and have to go through a long torturous period where you change into something else. Thomas can’t remember his past, he barely remembers his own name...but he does know one thing, he needs to find a way out of this Maze.

Lord of the Flies meets Ender’s Game in this dystopian mystery adventure. I don’t think it is high comparison to the two but it is reminiscent. The whole novel had a LOTF’s type feel because of the strange slang and silly young teen boy behavior. I think it was this typical male behavior of the characters that most irritated me about this novel. The voice was so very adolescent male - which made sense since he was the narrator, but while he was supposed to be a leader and courageous - I felt only scared little boy within the writing. I don’t want to read about a little boy. I might if I were a little boy, but adult, female me, does not. I don’t know what to do with a little boy.

I want to read about perfect, teen, male heroes. Is that wrong? So begins the discussion...

I’ve gotten into a few discussion with other readers about some of our favorite male teen heros. These characters are mostly created by female authors, they imagine these perfect teen male heros that we fall in love with so easily. Beautiful boys with hearts of gold like Sam from Shiver (Wolves of Mercy Falls) and speaking of shivering who can forget Jace from the Mortal Instruments series?

These boys are larger than life and meant to be erected onto pedestals and worshipped by massive groupings of teen girls and the occasional sprinkling of housewives. Yet, are they real? Do these boys exist IRL? I have a few boys in my own life. Two or three of them are rock stars. They fly F-16s for the USAF, they care for their children better than the moms, dedicating their lives to causes other than their own selfish whims...these are real men in my life (they are in their 20s, 30s & 40s), but I also knew them as teenagers and they were idiots. One in fact got me evicted out of my apartment for throwing a party because he knew where I hid my key (love you bro!). They were arrested for fighting, peeing in public and wrecked numerous cars, totally braindead. So, when a male author like Dashner comes upon us and creates these silly male teens, acting like teen boys should, faced with a life and death scenario, why can’t I get into the characters? These boys should feel so much more real than our drool recipients in female written love stories. Case in point, I also read Divergent at the same time, reading Maze Runner, and Tobias (the male protag) was perfection wrapped up in tattooed 18 year old hotness, he made Tommy look like a 6 year old! Is it that I’m so in-love with this female author, inspired, perfect male boy? The teen boy that acts like the 30 year old man that I mentally need, but looks like the 18 year old stud that I want? Is my prejudice so great that I just can't get into more "real" teen characters? Or are Dasher's characters just bleh? Highly materialistic of me wouldn’t you say if it were the former? But, I must not be alone? How else would you describe the phenom of Twilight and housewives?

So this leads me to the question. Are we just in some hormonally charged, housewife, la la land? Or are there really highly mature teenage boys out there? Ones that aren’t only thinking one thing? Ones that don’t have that perpetual sprinkling of weeping acne...but on top of it aren’t dumb as rocks? I think these over-the-top heros might be strictly a creation of the romantic minds of female young adult authors and I am saddened by this. If there are boys out there like this, like Jace, Sam, Ash, Nick, Nash, Tobias....are they like the Yetti? Spotted occasionally but never proven to exist? Have you know one in real life? I haven’t. I’ve seen rare moments of humanity in teen boys, but it usually degrades the moment they get around their friends or a hot girl...

Back to the review. It was a good book. Besides my taste in the diction and mentality of the narrator, I liked the world building, it was compelling and sinister and woven nicely. I shiver at the thought of what society would do to children for the greater good, because it is true, fear does strange things to people and you give up rights very easily during times of fear. Look at everything we’ve given up since 9-11. Taken a plane ride lately? Dashner did a fabulous job conveying that fear and putting it into light. The only thing that I think he failed to do was explain. The characters were left completely in the dark and by the end of the novel I was hoping for just a glimmer of understanding but I found none. It left me we nothing...only a forced compulsion to maybe read book two to find answers. I like trilogies, but I would like a bit of knowledge at the end of the book.

For mature teen audiences, I think this will be more enjoyable by teen males than most the YA I review on this blog. Fans of Lord of the Flies, Incarceron and The Percy Jackson series should enjoy.


Book Addictions by Christina said...

I couldnt agree more! I am a 30 year old, married, mother of 3 and I am so loving Jace, Edward, Sam, and sooo many more. I havent read The Maze Runner yet thought. Great review and discussion :)

*Andye* said...

I really agree with you about this book. It was one of those time where I really felt like, maybe the majority of YA writers actually write for an older crowd but just don't realize it...haha.

This book just did NOT appeal to me. Like you, I liked the world, and even the terrifying creatures, and I am curious as to what is happening, but I couldn't get into the story, and didn't connect with the characters. They just seemed like silly little boys. And honestly, I found most of the book boring. I keep trying to get our 13 year old boy reviewer to read it, because I have a feeling he'll like it more.

That leads me to thinking that maybe the reason we didn't connect isn't because we're crazy housewives, but because this book was geared towards boys instead of girls. I think most books out there are written with a female audience in mind, while this was definitely written with a young male audience in mind.

As far as teen boys go. I have to say that I did know a few fantastic teen boys. At least when I was a teen, I thought of them as mature and thoughtful, and mysterious. Sure there were some idiots out there, but they also hadn't faced the life and death situations that characters like Jace have faced. They didn't grow up with death lurking around every corner.

However, I have to admit, when I read YA, I don't actually think of these boys AS boys. I think of them as guys with no actual age. Part of this just happens, and maybe another part is because I don't want to feel like a creeper, haha!

Great discussion!

My very short review of The Maze Runner:

Meg @ A Bookish Affair said...

This sounds like an interesting read. I didn't realize that they were making a movie of it! I always try to read the book before I see the movie.

ParaJunkee said...

@Christina - Compared to adult novels it seems the teen heroes stand out so much more. I wonder why that is?? I think it might be because we expect adult males to be heroes... thanks BTW.

@Andye - Well, you see most YA writers are older, so really they do write for an older crowd because they write first for themselves. They have established ideals, life experience and knowledge so intrinsically it is an “older” adult perspective with the voice of a teen.

I would like to see what a 13 year old boy would think of the book. But, I keep going back to the fact that the boys in this book were not 13. They were in their late teens, which is why I guess I expected an older voice.

Is it a sad fact that most boys stop reading when they reach their late teens, which is why books have target audiences of 14+ females? I’ll have to talk to a publishing marketer to figure that out. But, I bet it is. Just look at the majority of book bloggers, teens in particular. There is probably a 100 to 1, female, male ratio - and you know teen boys are online and blogging. The Maze Runner does seem to have been marketed to the younger side of teen males - probably still trying to grasp the remains of boys that are reading, targeting the 12 year old market. I really couldn’t tell you.

And, about the fantastic teen boys, like I said these guys were good guys. They were honor students, excelling, helping out in the community - but they were silly. Getting in to trouble for no reason, chasing girls for looks, not for substance, things like that. Even the ones that I put on pedestals, guys that I thought were fantastic, athletes, or singers, even military boys - that I dated in the end sadly disappointed me. I guess I had too high of expectations when I was a teen myself. But, then again, none like you said were in life or death situations. Until I got into the military - but then it seems the guys got a little more complex. They turned into machines when “duty” was at stake, but the moment our leashes were loosened -- brainless. LOL. I guess it was their release.

I do think of these boys as teens, I guess if you could ambiguousize a teen though. A teen but not really, does that make sense? I guess how you do it, no actual age. Or maybe it is that I make it out that my 18 year old self would really like this guy...not my 30 year old self. ;) Anyway to rationalize it. I guess it makes it better because these aren’t real guys. I’m not lusting after real celebs or singers in that age category, because while Justin Bieber might be the same age as say, Sam of the Stiefvater’s Mercy Falls series, they are in two different categories all together.

@Meg - I did not say they were making a movie of it. I said I watched the “movie” trailer like promo which was a 2009 Book Video Finalist.

I think the movie rights have been sold to FOX, with a possible Director of Catherine Hardwicke - possible release schedule for 2013, but casting has not even started which means it is usually stuck in negotiations and script writing and things like that and sometimes gets 86’d.

Lani Wendt Young said...

I enjoyed this review - and the excellent discussion on the whole 'perfect male hero' vs the silly 'real' teen boy. Food for thought!

Im inclined to agree with you. 'Flawed' male lead characters are attractive but not if the flaw includes silly, immature, or pathetic behaviour...

kathy said...

I so love your comments about teen boys written by women vs. teen boys written by men. I had a hard time connecting to Thomas in this book (or really any of the characters) so I wonder if that's just Dashner's style? But my husband read Maze Runner and felt connected enough. My 13 year old nephew also loved it.

Sometimes I think women and men look for different things from what they read. I don't think Dashner necessarily writes with women in mind. Not to say that women won't enjoy his books, or that women only want to read lovey dovey stories. Just that I think it's important for women to connect to characters, and for men maybe it's more important to connect to the story/plot.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this review/discussion! The Maze Runner seems like an interesting read. I may pick it up soon.

June G said...

You've made some excellent points.I just bought The Scortch Trials, book two of The Maze Runner series. I haven't read book one yet, but I find book two cheap at a Borders close out sale. I'm disappointed to hear that the story has a teen boy silliness. I wasn't expecting that at all. Thanks for your thoughts!

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