Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Friday, October 26, 2012

Consider this Maze...Unraveled

Where to start on a review of The Maze Runner? First, a short synopsis: Sixteen year old Thomas wakes to find himself inside a box that lifts him into a world where teen boys must work on their own to survive (well, they do get weekly supplies) and run through a Maze in hopes of finding a way to escape. All memories previous to this awakening are erased; the large living community is surrounded by giant walls which close at night to keep out the Grievers--a hybrid mechanical animal with the power to both sting and kill. And these boys who are trapped in this community (the Glade) are angry, and doubly so when Thomas's arrival signals a shift in the routine. Follow that up with the arrival of a girl with the note that says she is the last one ever, and the need for escape intensifies.

Great, great premise. The idea that a moving Maze somehow must be escaped by boys with no adult supervision is genius. Lots of tension and the threat of danger and death that's real...awesome. There's a bit of gore but not much, and lots of unanswered questions, including why is Thomas so different? Why does a girl show up? What happens when a boy is bitten and goes through the Changing? Lots of good stuff there, and there are sparks of brilliance along the way. The chapters often end on cliffhangers that defy you to stop reading, and the idea of a Griever attack is creepy stuff. By the time I was halfway through, I knew i would have to finish the book because I needed to know how they got out of that freaky Maze.

And there goes the good news.

It was a struggle to finish this book, but I committed myself halfway through and I meant to keep it. But the characters...I really only liked Chuck, and mostly I just felt sorry for him. Thomas was meant, I think, to be a strong, mysterious boy, and yet he was just clueless and frustrating, as were most of the others. I never warmed up to the "leaders" Alby and Newt, and Teresa...well, if I knew who she was, I might've been intrigued but really she was a throwaway character because she neither added to nor helped the storyline. Biggest issues beyond those? Lots of the story was transparent including (spoilers....) the names of the characters and WICKED's signs in the Maze. But mostly it was the style of writing, which was supposedly geared to young adult but in actuality is much more for the younger end of that spectrum (perhaps twelve/thirteen). Thomas was said to be sixteen and yet he acted much younger; I never warmed to him because he just didn't seem to be real. And the substitution of "shanks", "klunk", etc., for the words we *know* they are saying was just odd and irritating and only led to the aura of a younger mind-set.

Worst of all, however, was that non-ending. If the author was trying to ensure that we'd go for the next books, he underestimated his intended audience, because of the five friends I know who have read this book, four of us will not go ahead to the next one simply because of that ending. I won't detail it here, but I will say that the lack of answers and the forced march into The Scorch Trials is a huge turn off.

I initially gave The Maze Runner two stars because I *never* take two weeks to read a book of this size, and for the reasons I mentioned above. However, upon reflection, I decided it warranted 2.5 stars (there are some gems in there, and the excitement, when it's good, works well) so I'm allowing that to round up to 3 stars. Consider yourself gifted, Mr. Dashner.


Monday, October 08, 2012


The world's gone to hell, and our heroine Alex has been left outside the community of Rule to face the zombie teens, the Changed, in the fight of her life. Meanwhile, Tom, her partner/friend, has disappeared and survival seems unlikely. So begins the second book in Ilsa Bick's Shadows trilogy, and from the word go, the action is fast, unexpected, and gory. Did I mention gory?

Bick doesn't waste time recapping the storyline, but a helpful hint for those who've forgotten anything would be to visit the author's website as she has a great page to refresh your memory. Instead, we're launched into Alex's predicament, surrounded by Changed...and it's not a spoiler to say that while she lives, the situation is one of constant danger and vividly horrible positions. While we are dealing with Alex's dilemma, we are also bounced through the points of view of Tom, Chris, Peter, and a few others, making it hard at times to keep the action straight. But that's a minor quibble in this excellent, action filled sequel.

Bick is a master of keeping the reader on the edge of his/her seat, and I'm no exception. Many of her chapters end as cliff hangers, making the "just one more chapter" bit an almost constant issue. There is a point midway when the action slams back and forth between Alex and Tom that literally left me exhausted as the pages flew between life threatening situations. That segment alone would be worth the price of the book, but Shadows is so much more than "Chuckies" eating people; it's about relationships, fear, survival, and the degeneration of humanity. Just when it can't get worse, it does, and Bick succeeds in breaking our hearts more than once. When Jack entered the story, I nearly lost it.

I absolutely loved Shadows and one of my particular joys while reading is that Bick does not write down for the reader: her vocabulary is extensive and well used, and her knowledge, particularly of old mines, traps, and the depravity of humans, shines through. I'm impressed that Bick expects the reader to infer so much and that she's able to tie so many threads together so well. This is what young adult writing should be.

Big warning though: While I adored Shadows, it is filled with gore, to the point that I even skimmed a few passages to avoid the mental picture. And while I applaud Bick for not shying away from situations that bring the terror of the zombies to life, I do think those with a weak stomach might want to consider before reading. I'd recommend this one for those at the older end of the young adult spectrum, but adults like me will definitely find much to love. Highly recommended.