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When Thomas wakes up inside a metal box, he remembers nothing about his former life except his first name. Then the box opens, and he becomes the latest in a series of monthly arrivals in a boys’ camp from hell. The teens live in a glade at the center of a huge maze. Some of them have been there up to two years. No one has ever found a way out. The walls move during the night, when venomous monsters called Grievers prowl the maze. Kids who have survived being stung (or worse) remember just enough about life outside the maze to fear getting out more than staying stuck inside. Though Thomas has just arrived, he has a strange feeling that he is meant to be here.
The next day, a month ahead of schedule, the Box arrives again, carrying another newbie. For the first time ever, this one is a girl. She arrives comatose, nearly dead, clutching a disturbing message in her hand. After she wakes up, Teresa proves to be able to talk directly to Thomas’s mind. She tells him that everything is going to change. Somehow she has triggered the end of whatever fiendish experiment these children have been forced into. The maze, she reveals, does not have an exit. Yet the teens must escape, and soon. Otherwise they will all die.
Thomas and Teresa together are the Gladers’ only hope to survive. But even though they’re in as much danger as anyone else, they must risk a lot to lead their friends to safety. They will face the suspicion of kids who have good reason to distrust the maze’s Creators and anyone who deals with them. They will be targeted by the mentally unbalanced victims of the Grievers, who remember something awful about the two newbies. Their lifesaving heroics and death-defying tactics will make them the center of a swirl of conflict and debate. And when they finally crack the code and form a plan of escape, they will risk many innocent lives to get back to a world that may, after all, prove worse than what they are escaping from.
My younger friend Ike told me this was a great series. But even though I had already enjoyed a book by the same author, I didn’t seek this book out until one day when I was an hour early for an out-of-town appointment. I didn’t know what else to do with my time, and for once I hadn’t brought anything to read. So I popped into Walmart and popped back out with this book in my hands. I found it reasonably engaging, for a dystopian-future, blood-sport-for-teens type of book; though, mind you, I didn’t miss The Hunger Games by accident. World-building fans will appreciate the effort author Dashner has taken to create an original texture for his tale, with the kids speaking their own distinctive slang, and their world decked in ominously run-down-looking, machine-like trimmings. The more they learn about what happened to their planet, and what the suggestively named organization WICKED has in mind for them, the darker the outlook for the series becomes.
The Maze Runner is the first book in a four-book series, which goes on with The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure, and The Kill Order. It is also coming out as a movie in September 2014, starring Teen Wolf star Dylan O’Brien. James Dashner’s titles also include the Jimmy Fincher quartet (starting with A Door in the Woods), The 13th Reality quartet (starting with The Journal of Curious Letters), and the ongoing Mortality Doctrine series (starting with The Eye of Minds).