This was a very nice surprise! Thomas wakes up with no memory of his past in the heart of a self-sustaining community located at the center of a giant shifting maze. Why is he there? What is the maze? Who created it? Dashner does a really great job of building upon the mystery and doling out pieces of answers that lead to more and more interesting questions. The number one strength of this book is the world-building. It's inventive, original and imaginative. Dashner creates a whole new language for the maze inductees to use and you feel Thomas's frustration as he adjusts to life among them as he overhears bits and pieces of explanations among the Gladers that only make the situation sound more confusing. You learn about the world as he does - its geography, its rhythms and dangers. There's nothing incredibly deep here, but the mystery makes the book page-turning enough. The characters are kind of flat and the macho false bravado of the teenage boys in the book sometimes becomes kind of stale and predictable, but again, I think the world that Dashner builds is captivating enough that you really don't care. What gets you to turn the page are the questions you have: Why? What the hell are they going to do now? What does WICKED mean?
The downfall of books like this, I suppose, is that they don't really have any re-readability. Once the questions are answered, you don't really need or want to read the book again. The characters are archetypal and once you move on to another book or series, forgettable. Also, I think this book goes through a bit of identity crisis. There are moments that are definitely not YA and very gruesome. In fact, there are several dark moments that I think would work really well as an adult sci-fi/mystery novel even if the characters were still kids rather than adults. Dashner also clearly wants the characters to speak like adults and he invents a whole slew of stand-in curse words the kids can use so he can maintain his target audience. Every other line is "Shuck it" and "Shut your shuckhole you shucking shank." I mean really, that's a pretty thin veneer that most intelligent young adults would see through right away anyway, so why not take the plunge and either have the kids be more innocent, thus making their situation more tragic, or make them more "real" by letting them genuinely curse and give the novel a darker and edgier tone? Most kids in this age-range hear it all the time anyway. Here the marketing gods intervene: Dashner wants Maze Runner
to be gritty, but wants it to be consumed by 13-16 year olds who have parents that might think twice about buying their teen a work dripping with profanity, thus the safe, but intellectually confusing middle ground.
I guess in short, while the "Shucking" got annoying to me, the Maze itself made the whole thing worth it. I love puzzle books and this one is one of the better ones. This book is what Ender's Game should have been! This is probably a safer recommendation for a teenage boy than a girl. There's one female and she's kind of a pseudo-independent character - the kind that male authors create thinking they're giving the female audience someone to identify with and look up to, but ends up being dependent and deferential to the male lead anyway. That being said, this was recommended to me by a girl, so what do I know?