James Dashner’s, The Maze Runner was published in 2009 as the first part of The Maze Runner trilogy, with two prequels later being published after the trilogy. The writing has that snappy Young Adult fiction style that’s easy to read, no excess fat as it were, and populated with characters who express their conflicting emotions in the face of a dysfunctional adult world — plus, there’s plenty of action. The Maze Runner is, in part, a good old mystery yarn combined with a prison break story.
While Young Adult fiction never went away exactly, it took on a new mainstream significance with the success of J K Rowling’s, The Philosopher’s Stone (1997). The collapse of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 came in parallel to mergers and acquisitions in the publishing industry, the trend towards the commodification of books, the rise of non-traditional bookstores like supermarkets and Amazon, and the relative decline in the visibility of Literary Fiction.
By 2009 — when The Maze Runner was published — the Young Adult hero had usurped the Literary Fiction hero in terms of public consciousness. The new Young Adult hero was a genre hero, in contrast to the seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield in J D Salinger’s classic 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which featured a literary fiction type of hero.
The Maze Runner (2009) is part of the wave of Young Adult fiction that followed Harry Potter. Suzanne Collins’, The Hunger Games, and Patrick Ness’s, The Knife of Never Letting Go were published the year before, in 2008. Veronica Roth’s, Divergent was published two years later, in 2011.
Where the Harry Potter series was fantasy fiction, the following wave of Young Adult fiction had a strong science fiction contingent, with many of them taking place in a future dystopia and often expressing a feminist viewpoint through the characters and narratives.
The Maze Runner, like the others, seems almost conceived from the outset to work cinematically. The novel ticks the basic storytelling essentials, starting with some great initial ‘hooks’ that ask questions without immediately offering answers (to retain the reader’s interest). Who are the people in the maze? Why are they in a maze? What is the maze for? Plus a strong motive — to find out why they’re in the maze and how to escape from it. The Maze Runner is an enjoyable read and there’s a lot to be learned from this kind of storytelling.