The Maze Runner: Hooking Teachers and Reluctant Readers Since 2009 – Review by Sarah Krajewski
When The Maze Runner was published in October of 2009, it was one of the few points in my life that I was too busy to notice new books. The reason? On October 25th, I gave birth to my first child, my son Ryan. Over the next few months, I concentrated on being a new parent, so I was not an avid reader. Unfortunately I missed out on The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
Fast forward to September of 2013 when I met my new freshmen class of students. As always in September, I had some students that told me “I hate to read” or “books are boring.” I snickered inside, knowing full well they just had not found the right book yet. About three weeks into the school year, I found that the “right book” for one reluctant reader was The Maze Runner. I had heard of the book, so when the self-proclaimed “book hater” walked into my 1st period class and told me he finished it in two days over the weekend, inside I was skeptical. I pulled up a seat next to his desk, and asked him to tell me about it. The ten minutes I set aside for the conference were not nearly enough. He sought me out during his lunch to finish filling me in about teenage boys stuck in a maze they couldn’t find the end to, and the horrific Grievers that tried to slaughter them. I found out that when a boy named Thomas awoke on page one, he was being transported into “the Glade,” a large area enclosed in huge stone walls. Other teenage boys were there to welcome him, and Thomas soon learned that they were expecting him. These other boys didn’t know much more than Thomas about their purpose in the Glade, but they did believe their way out was by solving the maze, which surrounded it. My student explained, through bites of his sandwich, how he connected with Thomas’s confusion about his new life. He stated he had never connected with a book before. Immediately I added The Maze Runner to my list of books to read, for if this “book hater” liked it, I was sure many others would as well.
When I finally got around to reading The Maze Runner a few months ago, I could confirm that my student—well students by that time—was absolutely right. Like my student, I finished the book in two days and was not disappointed. It wasn’t just good; it was great! While reading books, I always think about them from a student’s perspective, as well as a teacher’s perspective. If I saw potential for both read alouds and teaching strategies, I knew I had a great one. With The Maze Runner, I found endless possibilities:
Reasons This Book is Great (a Student’s Perspective)
- Hooks the reader from page one: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. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness (1).
The above excerpt from the first page hooked me instantaneously. I was immediately asking myself, What the heck is going on here? Where is this boy? Is he in another world? What does the author mean by “new life”? I wanted answers to those questions, so I knew I had to read on. The first several lines were so addicting and ambiguous that it was difficult to put down.
- Short, suspenseful chapters – Books with long 15-20 page chapters can be difficult for some of my reluctant readers. There are 62 chapters and an epilogue in The Maze Runner, which averages to be about five pages per chapter. Each chapter ends with new information that makes the reader rethink any inferences he/she previously made. Thus, one must read on.
- It’s a trilogy (with a prequel) – Whenever I find a great book that begins a series, I always tell my students about it. When a reluctant reader enjoys the first one, chances are he/she will want to read the rest of them. The Maze Runner was such a hit with my students this year that all of them read the second and third books in the trilogy, and some read the prequel too. Thus, the title of “reluctant reader” goes by the wayside.
Reasons This Book is Great (a Teacher’s Perspective)
- It’s a “read aloud book” – When I find a book that I cannot put down, I know many of my students will feel the same way. As I mentioned earlier, The Maze Runner hooked me from page one, so it makes for a great read aloud. Reading just the first page would make students fight over this book.
- Great books make great mentor texts – The Maze Runner can be a perfect starting point in September for many of my new students. I love using popular books to teach writing techniques and skills. I could use this book to teach how to write a compelling hook, or how to add vivid imagery, or even how to work on sentence structure to create suspense. I could go on and on.
- Making connections between mutiple texts – As I read the book and experienced the Glade with Thomas, I saw striking similarities between his first friend, the naïve yet sweet Chuck, and Piggy in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Gally, a suspicious older boy who doesn’t trust Thomas from the very beginning, has the same nasty attitude that Jack did in Golding’s novel. (On a side note, James Dashner’s own website confirms that Lord of the Flies was a huge influence on this book.) I could give students excerpts from both books and have them make connections.
What puts a book into the great category? So many books are good, but, to me, great books are those that hook students and make them want to read, as well as give me innovative teaching ideas. The Maze Runner is one of those books that I will continue to use in my classroom.
* The Maze Runner movie release date is September 19th.
Sarah Krajewski is a dedicated 9th grade English teacher at a high school outside of Buffalo, New York. She has received the New York State English Council’s Program of Excellence award for a poetry unit she developed with another teacher using popular music, as well as NCTE’s Leadership Development Award, all before her fifth year of teaching. Sarah is about to start her thirteenth year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her school webpage can be viewed at http://clevehill.wnyric.org/webpages/skrajewski/