Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Scorch Trials - James Dashner

Lara Hays Zierke is my former next door neighbor, an adoptive mama, and an aspiring writer who has graciously consented to guest review the Maze Runner series for us.  The Scorch Trials is the second book in the series.  Here is her review of the first -- The Maze Runner.
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Summary:  Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder -- does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind?  Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED? (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com)

My review:  The Scorch Trials picks up right where The Maze Runner left off and immediately the reader realizes that the world Thomas and the Gladers escaped to is far worse than life in the maze. The entire human population is on the brink of extinction thanks to solar flares that devastated most of the world and unleashed a terrible disease called the Flare. A government-type agency called WICKED is closing in a cure. WICKED orchestrated the Maze as a way to map the brain patterns of the Gladers, which is essential to finding a cure (this didn’t sound very plausible, but I suspended my disbelief). WICKED needs one more set of trials to perfect the cure. They have infected the Gladers with the Flare and force them to traverse the uninhabitable land called the Scorch and survive the infected masses called Cranks (essentially zombies). The Gladers must accomplish this task in two weeks in two weeks to obtain a cure for themselves.

The story is action driven. Many terrifying things happen—physically, emotionally, politically—that could easily deserve more depth, but Dashner doesn’t go there. Sometimes this bothered me. Other times I felt that it was a smart choice, leaving those topics open for my brain to explore without inhibition. Characterization is still spotty. Most Gladers are unnamed and die without any emotional fuss—they are simply “redshirts.” I liked that this dystopian future was caused by natural disaster instead of the mainstays of nuclear holocaust or war and the Cranks are creepy beyond measure. A female named Brenda is introduced. A love triangle between Thomas, Teresa (the girl from the maze whom Thomas had a connection with), and Brenda is hinted at but never actualized. It seems like this love triangle idea was included because it’s the popular thing to do in young adult novels these days.

Unlike The Maze Runner, the ideal outcome of the story is quite clear—get all the Gladers out of the Scorch in time to get the cure. Still, the reader wonders if there is a way to save the Gladers without catering to WICKED’s questionable motives.

With a better understanding of the dystopian world and the purpose of the maze, I felt as though I was finally getting into the real story behind the series. It’s rare for me to enjoy a second book more than a first in a series, but in this case I did. More than the story itself or the somewhat shallow characters, I was hooked by the world itself and the philosophical/moral questions that developed with every chapter. As with The Maze Runner, the cliffhanger ending is short on closure.

My rating: 4.25

For the sensitive reader: This book contains violent situations expected with teenagers fighting for their lives. Teenagers fight, carry weapons, kill Cranks, suffer injury, and die. The made-up profanity from The Maze Runner continues throughout this book. PG-13.

Sum It Up: A meatier read than its predecessor, it paints a terrifying dystopian future and provokes moral questions without being preachy. 

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