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Just Enough: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Hello, and how are you today?  Lets talk The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

James Dashner’s The Maze Runner is pure dystopian fiction; and I love it!  My husband and I listened to the audiobook together (just like we did for The Hunger Games series) and we’re pumped to start the sequel, The Scorch Trials!

So, as much as I hate doing this I must make a comparison to The Giver by Lois Lowery, but its a super positive comparison, so never fear!  One aspect I loved about The Maze Runner, and also appreciated in The Giver, is the way in which the reader and the narrator are finding things out at the same time.  Because Thomas wakes up in an elevator with no memory except his name (I mean just imagine that!) he knows absolutely nothing about the situation he’s about to enter, which is exactly how it is for the reader.  In some way, this technique made me really feel as though I was actually Thomas experiencing everything about The Glade for the first time.

Dashner’s writing completely captures you from the very beginning.  Here see for yourself,

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale dusty air.  Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him.  He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air.

Boom!  I was hooked!  Dashner had me concerned for the main character within the first few sentences.  Plus, the world he creates in The Glade is so well thought out he even introduces new vocabulary (shuck, greenie, shank, slopper) that is used by The Gladers, further sucking you into this new and creepy world.   My husband and I loved the Glader slang so much we even started incorporating into our own conversations (we’re not nerds or anything!).

In The Glade, the Gladers never really feel safe because they have no idea why they were there and who was watching.  As a reader you completely get this feeling of danger and insecurity around every corner because  you’re there right alongside the characters, learning everything as they do. This ties in to how strong a writer Dasher is.  He manages to tell you just enough, without telling you so much that it ruins it.  Just enough to creep you out and make you want more at the same time.  For example, Dashner never over describes the way the Grievers look.  He writes just enough detail and information to give you the basic idea of them and let your mind do the rest.  It’s like he understands that our minds can form more horrific images than anyone could ever put into words.  The creators of Signs, (you know the Mel Gibson alien movie) should have taken some tips from Dashner and never have shown us exactly what the aliens looked like because that was the exact moment it stopped being scary for me.

Okay, I have to make a comparison to another classic book; The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  In Lord of the Flies, you have teenagers on their own forced to create their own mini society with no adults, which is exactly what you have in The Maze Runner.  Golding’s approach has the society swiftly falling apart and melting into mass chaos, where as Dasher does the exact opposite.  The society that forms in The Glade, is one based on organization and hard work.  The older teens, who’ve been in the Glade the longest, know that without this organization and work, everyone would go crazy with fear, so it’s a necessity to keep them all sane and alive.  I like this take on an only teen civilization.  Although I work in a middle school and sometimes believe the Lord of the Flies scenario is much closer to what would actually happen if adults suddenly ceased to exist, I appreciated the idea that maybe I’m wrong.

Honestly, I hope a production company picks The Maze Runner up and makes it into a movie.  I really think the style of this book could easily work into a film; as long as they don’t show me too much of the Grievers!  If you’re a fan of dystopian lit, definitely don’t pass up The Maze Runner. I think it could be slightly scary for younger middle school readers, but could be enjoyed by anyone older.

I’m excited to read the rest of the series!

Author: James Dashner

Publisher: Listening Library; Unabridged edition (October 6, 2009)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 10 hrs, and 50 mins

Series: First in a trilogy

YA/MG: Young Adult

Buy the Book: The Maze Runner (Maze Runner Trilogy, Book 1)

 

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Freedom In Creation: Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

If I haven’t already mentioned this let me do it now.

I absolutely adore YA dystopian fiction!  I am so amazed at all the different creative takes on what our world could potentially look like a few hundred years in the future.  If you haven’t read any YA dystopian stuff, you really need to.  Now.  Do it.

Matched by Ally CondieOkay, so back to Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie.  I decided to review book together because I read (listened to the audiobook) one right after the other. And why not?!

One thing I noticed right off the bat is Condie’s attention to the importance of words.  Poetry plays a major role throughout the two books, tying characters together and moving the plot along, and Condie’s writing style itself is incredibly poetic.  I found myself quickly wrapped up in the beauty of Condie’s words and wished I had a print copy so I could go back and re read specific quotes.

Every dystopian novel needs its unique hook.  The Hunger Games (the games), Divergent (the factions), Uglies (the major cosmetic surgery), etc…  The hook in the Matched series is that everyone’s perfect mate is selected for you by the society.  Such an interesting backdrop.  Imagine your society watching you and recording you data since the day you were born in order to determine your job, and most importantly who you will spend the rest of your life with.  This made me cringe right off the bat!  But the society knows best right?

What I found interesting about Cassia, the heroine, is that she is your normal everyday trusting girl.  Up until her Matching ceremony she has absolutely no reason to distrust The Society.  Up until this point her life has been pretty good, she gets the highest marks in school, her parents are prominent members in the community, and she has good friends.  It took me a while to recognize this about Cassia.  At times in the beginning I would question her actions and trust, but once I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t she trust?!” I completely understood her character and agreed that I would probably behave the same way she does.

Additionally, Condie has created a super intriguing backdrop for the story to take place.  The Society is clean and streamlined.  Nothing is unnecessary.  Nothing causes distraction.  At some point before the story begins The Society has downsized culture into easily manageable chunks.  They choose the 100 songs, 100 poems, 100 paintings etc… under the idea that one cannot fully appreciate good culture when there is so much extra or bad culture distracting you from it. All that didn’t make the cut has been destroyed and lost forever. So interesting and sad all at the same time.Crossed by Ally Condie

Condie hints at this a bit in Matched, but it is more strongly illustrated in Crossed—the idea that creation equals freedom.  Because of this streamlined culture, no one can create anything new under The Society’s watch.  No new music, poems, books etc… So, when one character teaches another to write its their form of rebellion, which leads to experiencing a sense of freedom. Our ability to create points to our freedom!  Without that ability to create the citizens of The Society are oppressed without even realizing it!  Very cool idea.

Also, secrets are prominent in this series.  Cassia starts to learn that every person she knows has their own secrets, including those she thought she knew best. Cassia begins to realize that one’s secrets are another form of rebellion against The Society; which gives her a sense of power.

There is a love triangle, and its a very well done one.  Although she feels pulled in both directions (and rightfully so) Cassia recognizes that both boys represent a different path in her life and she chooses her path pretty quickly.  I’ve read some other reviews on current YA fiction and people seem to be harping on the whole love triangle thing.  I don’t have a problem with it!  I love the existence of romance in the books I read and a well done a love triangle is fun as long as it’s not Legends of the Fall-ish (Wow I’ve really been harping on that movie a lot recently…strong feelings much!?).  Hooray for love triangles!

I will say that I do prefer Matched to its sequel Crossed, as I feel like Crossed could be pretty slow at times.  However, I recommend both titles and I am eagerly awaiting the third book, which is scheduled to be released in November 2012 (according to Condie’s website).  So, if you’re into dystopian fiction, the Matched series is definitely one to read.  I’d say these books are best for older middle grade readers and up, based on attention span (there isn’t a whole lot of “action” going on); I do not think it will appeal to younger middle grade readers based on that fact alone.

Author: Ally Condie

Publisher: Matched: Speak (Penguin), November 30, 2010

                    Crossed: Penguin Audio; Unabridged, November 1, 2011

Format: Matched: Library Bound Hardcover

                  Crossed: Audiobook

Length: Matched: 366 pages

                 Crossed: 9 hrs and 50 mins

Series: Books 1 and 2 in a trilogy

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: Matched Crossed (Matched)

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Choices and Secrets: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Beatrice has a choice to make.

She is sixteen and in her society when people hit this milestone its time to make the biggest choice of their lives;  choose one of the five factions to devote their lives to.  In Beatrice’s dystopian Chicago (sometime in the future) society, to correct the wrongs of the past,  has divided itself into five factions – each one devoted to specific virtue; Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the courageous), Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent) and Amity (the peaceful).

Beatrice has been raised in Abnegation, but is struggling with the selflessness that seems to come so easily to her family. She wonders if she can truly live the life of Abnegation or if she is better suited for another.  Things get worse when Beatrice’s aptitude test shows that she is mysteriously special – she’s Divergent.  Beatrice shocks her parents by choosing to leave the faction in which they raised her to join Dauntless. But once in the middle of Dauntless initiation, the consequences of Beatrice’s choice soon make themselves known and she is forced to keep a secrets and make choices so dangerous they could put her life in danger.

Honestly?  I was hesitant about another dystopian novel after the publishers started churning them out in hope of catching some of the Hunger Games’ fame.  Turns out I was so pleasantly surprised! Roth’s debut novel showcases her creativity wonderfully.  Society split up into factions based on particular moral values?  So interesting!  I love the reasoning behind each factions’ chosen value.  I actually wonder if the factions are commentaries on different sects of Christianity?  (Hmmm…if I ever meet Veronica Roth, I will ask her).  I would have liked a bit more info on the factions’ history and if the rest of the world is set up this way, or just Chicago.  Questions that will hopefully be answered in the sequel.

Beatrice, or Tris as she is known in Dauntless, is an interesting narrator.  Often times, teen fiction creates one-sided characters, but Tris is as multifaceted as you can get. She wants to be kind and selfless, and at times she is.  She is also brave and honest at the most important times (there are many).  But she is also a fragile and vulnerable  sixteen year old girl. She can also be incredibly vindictive and prideful, even towards her closest friends.  Tris is so easy to relate to, but it was also easy for me to be disappointed in her as well.  I like Tris so much, she might even be Katniss’ cousin.

Is there a romantic hero?  Oh you bet there is! His name is Four and he’s pretty much awesome. I think I’m going to have to post on my favorite YA book crushes soon.

Divergent is intended for the older teen set and does contains some definite action.  It’s all part of the Dauntless craving for bravery and adrenaline.  If you’re sensitive to violence or blood, this title might not be for you.

The sequel, Insurgent,  is due in May 2012 (Can I wait that long?!) At Divergent’s end you’re definitely let wanting more and I’m completely on board with whatever Veronica Roth has planned!

Oh and BTDubs:  Apparently there is a Divergent movie in the early stages!

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Up Next?

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Okay, I need input!! I can’t decide which audiobook to listen to next. They’re both totally different: “What Happened to Goodbye” by Sarah Dessen (girly friendshippy stuff) or “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner (dystopian Hunger Gamesish).

I will read (listen to) whichever one gets the most votes, so comment on this post to vote.
I’ll count votes on Friday.

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A Pretty Good Read: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Imagine you have been told you were ugly every day of your life.

For fifteen year old Tally, that’s life; the life of an Ugly.  Forced to leave her parents, live in a dorm full of other Uglies, and forced to dream about life as a Pretty.

The Pretty life isn’t far from Tally’s grasp though, since she turns sixteen in a few months.  In Tally’s world your sixteenth birthday means extreme full-body cosmetic surgery that turns an Ugly into a Pretty.  As a Pretty, life consists of moving into New Pretty Town, having whatever you want and partying whenever you want. Tally can’t wait.

As Tally’s birthday draws closer, however, she meets a new friend and is confronted with intense decisions that may mean loosing her dream of becoming a Pretty.

Basically, Uglies is a must read for science fiction loving readers; its full of space age toys such as hover boards and interface rings mixed up with hot topics like the environment, politics and privacy.  But even if you’re not that into Sci-Fi or hot topics, you’ll still find Uglies an enticing, exciting, and quick read.  I’d recommend it for ages 13 and up simply because anyone younger might not grasp the concepts presenting in this book.