The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 15, 2010

Jeana Gockley, Book Review: Columnist reviews titles for young readers

By Jeana Gockley
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Young Adult

When Thomas wakes up in a black box, which he later discovers is a one-way elevator, he can only remember his name.

When the doors of the elevator are flung open he finds himself surround by a group of teenage boys and is in a place known as the Glade -- a large expanse of land surrounded by massive walls that slide closed at night. The boys living in the Glade have managed to create a society where each boy is assigned a task and they survive through agriculture and from periodic supply shipments sent via the elevator.

The Glade is surrounded by a maze, complete with pain-inducing creatures known as “grievers.” The boys, particularly those tasked with the job of “runner,” have been working to solve it for two years.

Thomas has a perplexing sense that he is meant to be a runner and that he knows how to solve the maze, but thanks to his amnesia he is unable to remember the secret. To complicate matters, a girl arrives in the box on Thomas’s second day, and despite being unconscious, she brings a message stating that she is the last person that will be sent and that there will be no more supply shipments.

Essentially, the Gladers have been cut off and it becomes clear to Thomas that now is the time to either solve the maze, or die trying.

While the need to comprehend how the Glade and the maze function make the beginning chapters move at a gradual pace, Dashner’s opener, to a planned trilogy, will nonetheless hook readers with its suspenseful twists and turns.

Readers will be unable to put this title down -- despite the loss of momentum in the final chapters, the epilogue is gripping and will leave readers eager for more.

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

Grades 4-8

A feisty, unnamed angel has been “lolling around in the stone tower of Casa Rosa,” high in the Swiss Alps, for as long as she can remember, waiting to discover her mission. The monotony of her existence leads her to believe that she may be “unfinished,” until one day an American man and a spirited, young girl named Zola move into Casa Rosa.

Zola immediately discovers the angel in the tower and, in her usual no-nonsense manner, solicits her partnership. The angel is unsure what she is getting into, but is soon entangled in a plot that will shake up the sleepy little village and help a group of orphans in the process.

Creech’s peculiar characters are delightful. The angel’s annoyance with the “peoples” who live in the village allow readers to relate to her and her tendency to use made up words is amusing. Zola’s habit of wearing three, multi-colored dresses at once is captivating, and the visual descriptions of her outfits are sure to entertain readers.

This is a gentle chapter book that’s short enough to be read aloud to a group or enjoyed alone.