Hey, you! Today we begin The Maze Runner by James Dashner, the very first book featured in Writing on the Pages (partly because I want to exploit its popularity with the teenyboppers for views, partly because it’s a birthday gift from a friend who’s waiting to hear what I think of it). Time to find out if it’s all it’s cracked up to be or just another spacetaker on the crowded YA dystopia shelf!
But first, just letting you know how this will go down: I’m gonna quote lines from throughout the chapters and write my impressions as I go along. Okay, now we can quit stalling.
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.
I was taught that the first sentence of a story needs to be compelling. If the reader isn’t invested from the get-go, then they don’t have much reason to continue it … right? I don’t know about you, but I believe that if you start a book and lose interest in it, you shouldn’t feel forced to finish it. Life is too short to spend too much of it on something you don’t even care about.
Damn, stalling again at the first line. With all that said, it’s got my attention!
Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he’d been moving for roughly half an hour.
Boy, I’d like whatever instincts he has. Wouldn’t need this watch anymore. Also, does that measurement include all the time he was unconscious? For all he and his instincts know, he’s been moving for days.
He screamed, called for help, pounded on the walls with his fists.
Thomas backed into the corner once again, folded his arms and shivered, and the fear returned. He felt a worrying shudder in his chest, as if his heart wanted to escape, to flee his body.
“Someone . . . help . . . me!” he screamed; each word ripped his throat raw.
Aw, geez, first line of dialogue and it’s already a melodrama. Maybe it’s the spaced-out ellipsis and italics, maybe it’s the fact the narration already described that he screamed for help. Either way it really deflates the tension.
Hands reached down, lots of hands, grabbing him by his clothes, pulling him up. The world seemed to spin, a swirling mist of faces and color and light. A storm of emotions wrenched his gut, twisted and pulled; he wanted to scream, cry, throw up. The chorus of voices had grown silent, but someone spoke as they yanked him over the sharp edge of the dark box. And Thomas knew he’d never forget the words.
“Nice to meet ya, shank,” the boy said. “Welcome to the Glade.”
In contrast, this section was really well-done. The description of Thomas’s confusion is vivid and fittingly chaotic, the words a “swirling mist” themselves. All of it leads to a plain statement that seems matter-of-factly to the point of being obvious, but actually explains very little. Don’t you just hate it a friend invites you to something with their other friend group and they spend the whole time exchanging inside jokes that sound completely alien to you? This is just like that, but you’re also almost completely amnesiac and surrounded by scary things. It’s another, more frustrating type of bewilderment in an experience that’s already crazy for Thomas. Cleverly done.
What, already? Chapter 1 was barely over three pages! Oh, is this that writing shortcut BS where they give the illusion of progress by splitting chapters into halves or thirds? Come on, man, fifteen- or twenty-page chapters shouldn’t be that daunting if your target audience is in high school.
“As he rotated in a slow circle, the other kids snickered and stared; some reached out and poked him with a finger.”
Well, that’s rude. I’ve seen the movie, so I already know that the same thing happening with Thomas once happened to all these kids. Is his presence really so unusual that some of them feel the need to be like those jerks at a turn-of-the-century freak show? It’s a small detail, but it’s really weirding me out.
“A tall kid with blond hair and a square jaw … A short, pudgy boy … A thick, heavily-muscled Asian kid … A dark-skinned boy …”
I can see that the Glade is multiracial, but it’s odd that Dashner tells the race and skin color of two non-white characters while the first two do not have theirs described. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the tall and short kids are white, but then why would he want us to know that the muscular one is Asian and the one who greeted Thomas is black? Is it just a subtle, probably subconscious byproduct of how our culture teaches us that whiteness is normal? Or am I just looking too much into it when it’s just trying to introduce characters?
“I told ya, shuck-face,” a shrill voice responded. “He’s a klunk, so he’ll be a slopper – no doubt about it.” The kid giggled like he’d just said the funniest thing in history.
Laughing at your own joke: always a sign of class.
Thomas looked back at his captors, feeling awkward but desperate to ask questions. Captors, he though. Then, Why did that word pop into my head?
Gee, could it be because you were trapped inside a cage in the dark for God knows how long, can’t remember anything about your past, and now find yourself in an unfamiliar place surrounded by giant metal walls and hostile strangers?
“Shuck it,” Alby said, rubbing his eyes.
Oh, I get it now! “Shuck” is a mix of “shit” and “fuck”! Cute way of dodging that R rating for the movie, Dashner! Totally not lame at all.
Thomas slid down the rough face of the tree until he sat on the ground again; he shrank back against the bark and closed his eyes, wishing he could wake from this terrible, terrible dream.
This moment comes after several pages of the group leaders, Alby and Newt, hassling him with completely unfamiliar terms and throwing vague comments alluding to death. As if this wasn’t rough enough, the chapter ends with a piercing shriek in the distance and a reaction from Newt that basically amounts to, “Can’t the doctors shut him up?”
The heroes of other fantasy and sci-fi stories are stoic and brave, and when they find themselves someplace unfamiliar through unknown means, they demand to know what’s going on. Meanwhile, Thomas seems to be doing his best not to break down and weep. Some might say he’s being kind of a wuss right now, but dammit, the kid can’t even remember his last name. The only thing he knows besides his first name is that he’s in serious danger that will only get worse.
So far, I strongly appreciate the realistic reaction that our protagonist is having towards all these developments. There’s something to be said for escapism, but I do know that if I awoke in a cage and found myself in a situation completely out of my control and largely beyond my understanding and can’t even remember my own freaking last name … hell, I’d shrink back and wish I could wake up. After all …
So far, I feel that my responses aren’t as thoughtful as they could be. Let’s see if I can spend a little less time mocking the book and more time finding more positive and analytical things to say about it.
“Klunk’s another word for poo. Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots.”
Thomas looked at Chuck, unable to believe he was having this conversation. “That’s nice” was all he could manage.
That’s … nice …
Okay, I just needed to get that out of the way. In this chapter we are properly introduced to Chuck, the Greenbean (Glade slang for new guy) before Thomas and his guide for the night. I remember him from the movie, but as “Chunk.” I didn’t call him that because he’s described as “short and pudgy,” but because I would swear that his actor, Blake Cooper, looks just like Chunk from The Goonies.
He stood up and walked past Chuck toward the old building; shack was a better word for the place. It looked three or four stories high …
Whoa, I don’t know how you define shacks, Dashner, but that building, even if it is “about to fall down at any minute,” is three or four stories high. It just doesn’t sound right to call something that tall a shack, even if it is somehow technically correct. The tallest thing I’d call a shack is probably Shaquille O’Neal.
“Listen to me, Greenbean.” The boy wrinkled up his face, folded his arms. “I’ve seen you before. Something’s fishy about you showing up here, and I’m gonna find out what.”
A surge of heat pulsed through Thomas’s veins. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I have no idea who you are, and I couldn’t care less,” he spat.
I can’t help but feel that this is a parody (sorta) of YA conventions, namely the sudden development of a rivalry with some random narrative-designated jerk, a boy named … Gally? Really? Not quite the same ring as “Draco Malfoy,” is it?
The bigger question is: is it a parody? I can’t tell for sure, but even if that is not at all what Dashner intended when writing this scene, I’m enjoying it too much to care.
He lightly slapped Thomas’s shoulder, then stepped back, gesturing up the stairs. But Thomas knew the kid was up to something. Losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.
Never mind, the author knows exactly what he’s doing and it’s so much fun to watch. Your genre expects you to throw in an amnesiac teen protagonist? Okay, but he reacts exactly as an amnesiac teen in an unnatural situation like this would (as I explained in my previous post). Is “jerk rival” a typical trope? Sure, as long as Thomas points out how silly and exaggerated this is. Does that jerk then try, without any subtlety, to get our hapless protagonist in trouble? “Screw you, I’m James Dashner and losing parts of your memory didn’t make you an idiot.”
Thomas hated these people. He hated all of them. Except Chuck. … He realized that Chuck might actually be his only friend in the world.
Oh ho ho, it is humorous, because earlier he told Chuck that he doesn’t need friends, and now he accepts that Chuck is his friend! What irony!
This doesn’t take away from Dashner’s newfound street cred, though. While I saw that coming from a mile away, I thought it’d come back as an ironic echo closer to the climax or something.
Though it was hard to make out from where he sat, there was something odd about the stone edges of the exits to the outside corridors.
The remainder of this chapter reveals that this is the giant door that leads to the Maze, which I already knew from watching the movie. However, I can only imagine how compelling this must have been for people reading it for the first time. I honestly don’t have much else to say about this chapter other than that if there are two things Dashner excels at (so far), it’s imagery and making build-up for that imagery.
“Why are you guys so secretive?”
Okay, I had to include this, I just like that he said that.
So, how does the book follow up the big, discomforting reveal that everyone’s trapped within an enormous maze?
“The bathroom,” Chuck whispered.
“So?” A thread of unease stitched along Thomas’s skin.
“I love doing this to people. Gives me great pleasure before bedtime.”
Great, just what we needed to cap off what had to be an exhausting, disturbing day for Thomas: pranking someone in the potty. Dashner, can’t you go two more than two chapters without mentioning poop?
“Who’s that!” yelled the boy from the bathroom, his voice scratchy and laced with anger. Thomas had to hold in a gasp when he realized it was Gally –
Never mind, I approve.
Without warning, Chuck suddenly popped his head up toward the window and screamed at the top of his lungs. A loud crash from inside revealed that the trick had worked – and the litany of swearwords following it let them know Gally was none too happy about it.
But … really, you’re just writing “litany of swearwords”? I’m personally not a big fan of strictly enforced PG-13 standards. If only they’d actually show some of the swears, or at least some kind of and colorful language …
“I’m not a dong, Greenie,” Gally spat.
I beg your pardon!
(And naw, man, I won’t even bother trying to put it in context. He called himself a penis, end of story)
“I know you,” Gally added without looking back. “I saw you in the Changing, and I’m gonna figure out who you are.”
Yeah, have fun with that, you dong.
Suddenly, the Glade, the walls, the Maze – it all seemed … familiar.
And it’s back to the plot, which is at least thickening. Thomas has this sudden epiphany that this place is not as foreign to him as it initially seemed. Damn, maybe I should have just come into this book fresh: this scene wasn’t in the film, and it seems so intriguing here but I already know the answer … Well, if it’s fresh for you, then isn’t this awesome?
I think these five chapters are enough for now (or perhaps more than enough). Seeing that this blog is just starting and this post in particular is a prototype, what do you think of the style? The length? The use of a Spongebob quote? (There’s one for any situation, I’m telling you!) Please let me know in a comment, I’d really appreciate it!