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The Maze Runner — “The Maze Runner” Series


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Book Review

The Maze Runner by James Dashner has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in “The Maze Runner” series.

Plot Summary

Feeling drugged, Thomas wakes up in an elevator car with no memory except his name. He finds he is part of a community of about 50 teen boys called Gladers, and all share the same pattern of memory loss. Their leader’s name is Alby. In an artificial environment built as an experiment by unknown, unseen scientists called Creators, they live in the Glade, and their lives revolve around trying to solve the Maze, a gray stone structure with walls hundreds of feet high. Entrances to the maze automatically close at the same time every night, which protect the Glade from Grievers — large part-animal, part-mechanical monsters that bite, sting and sometimes kill.

Occasionally a Griever stings one of the boys. If the victim returns to the Glade in time, he can be injected with a serum that saves his life; but it causes a strange, painful process. The boys call it the Changing — when part of the victim’s memory returns — but those who have lived through the Changing all agree that the real world is one they don’t want to return to. The few boys who have undergone the Changing say they have seen Thomas in it, and they are convinced that he is bad or perhaps a spy.

Chuck, the youngest in the compound, is assigned to Thomas to help him acclimate. He is the only one to offer Thomas friendship. Thomas spends his first couple of days learning the ropes and various work positions, such as Baggers and Sloppers. Runners are the boys who daily run through the Maze, and when they return just before night, they map the section they ran since each night the walls move, reconfiguring the Maze. The group has been working for two years to figure a way out of the Maze. Thomas notices that parts of his new life somehow seem familiar, with fleeting impressions of memories just out of reach. He feels driven to be a Runner.

Every month, a new boy arrives in the elevator. But on Thomas’ second day, the elevator brings a teen girl. Nearly comatose, Teresa has little memory remaining, and it is quickly fading. She remembers that she is being sent as a trigger to begin the end of life in the Glade. Later, when Teresa emerges from her coma, Thomas discovers that Teresa can communicate telepathically with him, and they deduce that they must have known each other before their arrival.

One evening, as time draws near for the walls to close between the Maze and the Glade, two of the runners have not returned. As the walls nearly finish closing, Thomas sees the two runners but realizes they won’t make it. Breaking the No. 1 rule to never leave the Glade at night, he squeezes through the walls at the last second, and he is terrified to find himself in the dark silence of the Maze. Miraculously, Thomas and the two runners survive their night in the Maze by outwitting several Grievers. Because no one has ever survived before, Thomas becomes a hero and then is promoted to Runner.

The end to life in the Glade is triggered when they all awaken one day to the absence of what they thought was a sun, and the fact that they exist in a fabricated place seems more apparent. Supplies stop arriving, and the walls stop closing, compromising their protection from the Grievers. The community is thrown into a panic. They learn that the Grievers plan to kill one child a day until they’re all dead.

Thomas finally decides that the best way to solve the Maze is for him to get stung and endure the Changing in order to retrieve some of his lost memory. His plan succeeds when the Grievers invade the Glade. Thomas goes through the Changing and learns from it that the boys in the Glade have above-average intelligence and are part of an experiment to test for survival of the fittest. The Creators took them from their homes when they were young, following a catastrophic event called the Flare. Some of them have had their brains altered. The ones who survive are to be used for an unidentified but important purpose. He also learns that he and Teresa were part of the group that planned the Maze.

Thomas comes up with a dangerous plan to escape. The plan works, but half of the group dies in the process. Their escape from the Maze ends in a confrontation with two of the Creators, who mind-control another boy who had disappeared earlier from the Glade. The boy throws a dagger aimed at Thomas, but Chuck moves in front of it and is killed. Suddenly an apparent rescue group arrives on the scene with weapons, shooting and killing one of the two Creators. Then they flee, along with the kids. They board a bus and drive for two hours to a new location. During the ride, a woman tells Thomas and Teresa about the outside world’s catastrophe: A massive solar flare scorched the earth, leaving millions of people dead and diseased. Much of the earth has become a wasteland. She tells them that this group they are with now is against the Creators and their testing of children. Book one ends with a memo from the World in Catastrophe: Kill End Department (WICKED), known to the kids as the Creators (scientists). It says that what the adolescents just lived through was only the first stage of their trial.

Christian Beliefs

Wooden crosses serve as grave markers. Alby refers to God in a discussion with Thomas.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

The Creators believe the end justifies the means, even to the point of allowing children to die. The woman scientist at the end tells Thomas and the group that “everything happens for a reason” after Chuck dies.

Ever since the Glade’s last leader died, Alby has led them. Though he and all the boys have experienced being the newbie or Greenie, Alby doesn’t have any empathy for Thomas, and he is short on politeness. He recognizes his shortcomings as a leader after he’s gone through the Changing. In the final battle with the Grievers, Alby is the first to sacrifice himself. He hopes to draw away the Grievers from the rest of the boys and prefers death to a return to life in the real world. Newt is second in command. He tempers Alby’s gruffness and is often the voice of reason.

Minho is the Keeper of the Runners and stands up for Thomas after Thomas saves his life. However, when he and Thomas spend the night in the Maze, Minho runs away, reasoning that their chances for survival are better if they split up.

Profanity & Violence

Invented slang and mild profanity are used, such as clunk, shuck-face, shuck it, runtcheeks, slinthead, wettin’ yourself, crap, holy crap, shut your hole, fart, butt, bloody, klunk (another word for poo) and shank appear throughout.

One of the boys is banished to the Maze and certain death when he is placed in a leather collar at the end of a long pole, then shoved into the Maze just before the walls close. In the graveyard, Thomas sees the remains of a boy who had been sliced in half by an unseen force during an attempt to escape back through the elevator. Ben, who is undergoing the Changing, attacks Thomas. Alby appears and shoots Ben with an arrow that enters Ben’s cheek with a “wet thunk.” His blood is black like oil, and his finger twitches. Thomas then retches violently.

The Changing process is gruesome and is described in detail a couple of times with severe seizure-like symptoms and bulging, discolored eyes and skin. Alby tries to choke himself during his Changing. Alby gets a gash on his head, which bleeds into his eyes. Plenty of screaming, stabbing, bleeding, slimy yellow goo, etc. happens in the final battle with the Grievers.

Chuck throws himself in front of Thomas to save Thomas from a thrown dagger. His death is described in detail as the dagger buries itself in his chest. Thomas holds Chuck as he convulses then dies, and Thomas’ hands are wet with blood. Thomas then flies into a rage and attacks the boy who threw the dagger, beating him with his fists until he lies still and senseless. Then a group of people shows up with guns. One of them takes aim and kills one of the Creators, leaving her bleeding profusely. They continue shooting at the other Creators before fleeing, taking the Gladers with them. They board a bus that runs over a hysterical woman, the wheels thumping over her twice.

Sexual Content

When Teresa arrives in the lift, one of the boys shouts that he’s “got dibs” on her. When one of the Med-jacks bends over Teresa to check for a heartbeat, another boy shouts he gets the next “shot” at her. Alby warns everyone not to touch her. Thomas feels a chill sweep through his body when Teresa shakes hands with him, holding his hand for a long time. While Teresa is mentally communicating with Thomas, she suggests that perhaps they had been lovers at one time. He senses a pleasant chill that causes him to trip and fall while he’s running the Maze. In spite of there being plenty of room on the bench, Teresa presses her body next to Thomas when she goes to sit with him. Thomas squeezes Teresa’s hand to reassure her as the battle with the Grievers begins. With separate rooms assigned to them for the night, Thomas telepathically tells Teresa that he wishes she were in his room.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments

Suicide mention: One of the boys says they all ought to slit their wrists rather than try to fight all the Grievers in an escape.

Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for The Maze Runner.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.