The Maze Runner: I have no idea what I’m in for

The Maze Runner movie

James Dashner’s The Maze Runner is, well, weird.

Basically, I have no idea whether the movie — which hits theaters this Friday — is going to be awesome or The Langoliers corny. Back when I was a kid, I thought that Stephen King film was the most frightening thing ever (I mean, come on, monsters that eat reality itself?!?!), but when I rewatched it as an adult, it was goofy as hell.

The monsters in The Maze Runner — an easy read of 300-some pages — remind me a lot of those bad CGI creatures. That is, I have no idea how they’re going to manage to look cool on the big screen when their descriptions in the book are so bizarre and … kind of stupid.

Let’s back up. The Maze Runner is sort of like The Langoliers meets The Lord of the Flies. A bunch of boys are thrown into a walled-in area they call the Glade — with no memories of who they were or how they got there — and forced to investigate a deadly, gigantic maze for a way out. The maze surrounds them on all sides, so while they have to form their own organized and civil society (they even have a council) just to survive, the braver few go out into the labyrinth during the day and try to learn its secrets.

The Langoliers movie
The Langoliers: Totally not scaring after the age of 12.

Not everyone gets along, though, and that’s made worse when the newest recruit, Thomas, arrives and weird things start happening. Including the appearance of a girl — the first ever in the Glade.

Cue awkward teenage sexual feelings and, erm, telepathy.

Yes, The Maze Runner is kind of a cheesy book, made weirder by the slang the boys throw around as their own primal island language. Words like “klunk” and “shank” and phrases like “good that” are totally normal conversation. They might as well be jumping from trees and sticking pig’s heads on stakes.

But the monsters are something else. Part slug, part death-metal-torture machine, the Grievers that patrol the maze are … totally ridiculous to imagine and maybe not as frightening to picture as Dashner thought. But then again, I’m not the target age group for this book.

I plan on seeing The Maze Runner in theaters later this month, mostly because I’m just damned curious — either it’s going to be the lamest young adult movie ever (maybe dumber than If I Stay seemed?) or it’s going to be somehow totally amazing, and Grievers will become the stuff of my nightmares. I mean, I dig mazes, so anything’s possible.

Can robotic slugs freak me out? Will I ever be able to take the words “shuck-face” and “Greenie” seriously? I have no idea.

Let’s find out.

On the high wind: a review of The Curse of the Wendigo

“In the name of all that’s holy, tell me why God felt the need to make a hell. It seems so redundant.”

The Curse of the WendigoMonstrumology is the science of dissecting truth from superstition — or debunking myths altogether. In The Curse of the Wendigo, it specifically involves understanding and maintaining humanity in a world of monsters.

I really liked The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey’s first book in the series, when I read it last year, and I’m ashamed it took me this long to pick up the sequel. It was, most assuredly, well worth the wait. I’m only saddened to learn that after the next book, The Isle of Blood, there’s just one more (The Final Descent releases in September). Of course, a fourth book almost didn’t happen at all.

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Awesome book cover Friday: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday break! Today’s cover pick is Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler, released in 2010.

Wolves, Boys cover

Here’s a description:

KJ Carson lives an outdoor lover’s dream. The only daughter of a fishing and wildlife guide, KJ can hold her own on the water or in the mountains near her hometown outside Yellowstone National Park. But when she meets the shaggy-haired, intensely appealing Virgil, KJ loses all self-possession. And she’s not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that they’re assigned to work together on a school newspaper article about the famous wolves of Yellowstone. As KJ spends time with Virgil, she also spends more time getting to know a part of her world that she always took for granted…and she begins to see herself and her town in a whole new light.

This is a fun cover. The colors in the font hint that it’s for young readers (as does the picture of the lonely-looking girl), but the wolf at the top is just silly. What do you think?

Love at first anagram: a review of An Abundance of Katherines

Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for your forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.

I’ve been a fan of John Green ever since I started watching the Vlogbrothers videos on YouTube. Looking for Alaska is my favorite out of the three (and counting) that I’ve read, including Paper Towns and most recently An Abundance of Katherines. It might not rank first with me, but An Abundance of Katherines possesses merits that are undeniably strong. This is a young adult book with a surprising amount of depth but one that reads lightly.

For the most part, anyway. Green tries his best not to bog the book down with the equations that his protagonist, Colin Singleton, devises in his attempt to calculate the future outcome of all romantic relationships—specifically his chances with the many Katherines he’s dated and hopes to continue to date. You see, Colin Singleton is a borderline genius—a prodigy who knows more languages than he has fingers, loves to anagram, finds everything and anything fascinating, and above all is terrified of not mattering.

After Katherine XIX dumps him, his friend Hassan takes him on a road trip that leads them to Gutshot, Tennessee, the resting place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—who was shot in the middle (a word that Green cleverly uses given the book’s context), leaving the same kind of gaping, empty hole that Colin feels he has without a Katherine in his life. Their adventure introduces them to a strange girl named Lindsey Lee Wells, who adapts her demeanor to whomever she’s with but who’s smarter than she lets on, and together they come unwittingly into a summer job, seating them across from the elderly of Gutshot in an effort to record their lives and memories of working for the town’s only factory.

As always, Green has a knack for crafting dialogue and a story that feels genuine to his audience. But the real worth here is found in Colin Singleton and his unmistakable need to matter—to be a genius, not just a prodigy. The novel beautifully unravels why he’s so obsessed with being the best, speaking more greatly to the human condition of loneliness. Colin might be a super intelligent nerd who’s painfully awkward in social situations, but he grapples with many of the same issues that the rest of us do.

More importantly, I think, is what Green is trying to say not only about the fear of relationships, and letting someone get close, but relationships in general: that we can’t go through life expecting to date only Katherines or Colins. When we put stipulations on who the right person is, we never find the right person at all because we’re looking for someone of unreasonable expectations—a kind of expectations that prevent people from truly falling in love with another human being. Some people say we find love when we stop looking, and for me, at least, that’s held absolutely true. My boyfriend doesn’t have striking blue eyes and a body like a Calvin Klein model, but he does make me happy (and he’s very handsome).

An Abundance of Katherines is also about letting yourself make mistakes, an act many of us never do out of anxiety for what might happen. Sound silly? It is.

The book is also about storytelling—mostly because Colin lacks proper foresight. For all his intelligence, he can’t understand why he’s fallen into the same disastrous pattern and why he’s intent to stay in it. Green establishes a noteworthy literary framework here, connecting the parts together at the end, when things finally make sense for the characters.

It’s about having confidence in ourselves—being okay with who we are and understanding that being “special” is not nearly as important as being present in the world. We have to live, really live, in it.

An infinitesimal change. And that infinitesimal change ripples outward—ever smaller but everlasting.

Snap to! A review of The Monstrumologist

Yes, my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.

I finished reading The Monstrumologist, and I have to say: Bravo, Mr. Yancey, for turning the bones-old premise of monsters under the bed and grave-digging and other such haunts into something I want to read in the modern day—with the lights off.

The Monstrumologist, part one in an ongoing YA series that escaped cancellation thanks to fan intervention, is fantastically gripping. Yancey has a natural knack for writing characters and forming meaningful connections between them, even if he does fall trap to spelling everything out for you (at least in the beginning) through the diary-recorded narration of the young Will James Henry, the monstrumologist’s assistant. But Yancey is quite clever at coming up with these psychological observations in the first place, and the sheer number of them makes the book rich and rewarding.

Also enjoyable is Yancey’s talent for describing the grotesque. It’s something to marvel at. The first chapter snares your attention for the rest of the book because the author takes his time in painting a very disgusting picture that gets increasingly impressive as more is revealed. In fact, while Yancey has undoubtedly learned from the old masters (H.P. Lovecraft, most notably), he certainly has a tenacious grasp of gross imagery that’s completely his own dark invention.

In the book, Will Henry and his mentor, the monstrumologist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, investigate the emergence of man-eating Anthropophagi in New England. The early parts of the story are slow to develop, but the flavorful language is more than repayment, and the last third of the book peaks in pace and suspense. Yancey knows how to keep a reign on the easily overplayed nature of horror.

For me, the bane of books with sequels is that I know that I either want to continue on (either soon or someday) or never will. With The Monstrumologist series, it’s only a matter of time before I’m back solving gruesome mysteries alongside Will Henry and the doctor.

My favorite quote from the book (spoiler-free), which speaks well of its themes:

I knew what monsters were, to be sure—what child did not?—but, like all children, when I thought of monsters, I imagined horrible, malformed beasts characterized by a singular trait: their enormous size. But monsters, I now know, come in all shapes and sizes, and only their appetite for human flesh defines them.

About Rick Yancey.

Have you read The Monstrumologist series or any other books by Yancey? What did you think? (No spoilers, please!)

If you’re looking for more YA recommendations, blogger Miss Anderson put up a great list of starter books—perfect for people who don’t read YA and for grown-ups who hate YA.