Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dashner, James. The Death Cure. Delacorte Press, 2011. 324 pages with an appendix. ISBN 13: 978-0-375-87030-9. This book is for grades 6 and up, or ages 12 and up, depending on reading level (2 stars out of 4).

As long as I am willing and able to stand in front of a group of students and manage a school library collection (or two in my case), I hope to always remember to not apply my standards to my students’ literary choices. As an English teacher, I never liked Dickens whereas I did like Steinbeck and Orwell, but I still cheerfully taught all of them (although I must admit in my heart of hearts that I probably had more enthusiasm for The Grapes of Wrath and 1984 than I did for Great Expectations). As a librarian, I can never let my biases about literature blind me to what my students want. I walk a fine line between what is popular, what is age-appropriate, what is deemed acceptable by community standards, what is in demand, and what is reviewed a certain way or given certain awards, but what I personally like or dislike is irrelevant. Ironically, this is working against me these days, because I love dystopias and always have ever since I was a teenager, so I have to fight the temptation spend half of my budget on the ever-expanding dystopian titles available these days. I would like to cite The Death Cure by James Dashner as one of the most highly successful and well-crafted young adult dystopias, but unfortunately, after his amazing start with The Maze Runner, Mr. Dashner has disappointed me with lots of running and fighting but not lots of substance. My students who have read it disagree with me, but the story felt hackneyed. However, as I stated above, my opinion is irrelevant: I have several copies on the shelf (and on hold) and I am glad I read it, if for no other reason than to learn the answer to the ongoing series question: is WICKED good or bad?
After surviving the various tests, betrayals, and trials of the Scorch, Thomas finds himself in a room of what he assumes to be WICKED’s headquarters. During three weeks of isolation, Thomas has plenty of time to remember all of the reasons he hates WICKED (World In Catastrophe, Killzone Experiment Department) and to plan his eventual escape, but he will need help from Minho, Newt, and whoever else made it this far and was deemed worth saving. Fortunately, Thomas and some of his fellow Gladers are “munies,” immune to the virus ravaging the earth called the Flare. When Thomas and some of his friends are finally summoned by Dr. Janson (aka, Rat Man), they are given the choice to get their memories back or to remain in ignorance. Also, Thomas, always the most curious of the group, finally gets the answer to the question that has been bugging him for a while: what is the “killzone?” Rat man informs him, “The killzone is your brain. It’s where the virus settles and takes hold. The more infected the killzone, the more paranoid and violent the behavior of the infected. WICKED is using your brain and those of a few others to help us fix the problem” (12-13). Minho, Newt, and Thomas must decide if they trust WICKED and the mantra “WICKED is good” that was Teresa’s last communication with Thomas. If they do not want their memories back and they will not cooperate, will WICKED and Rat Man just walk away from the people in whom they have invested so much time and effort? If they escape, how do they get out and where do they go? The world is not a safe place, but it is unclear whether it is more dangerous with WICKED or on the outside where the Flare is turning people into flesh-eating zombies.
When The Maze Runner series came out shortly after The Hunger Games, I was convinced that James Dashner was the heir-apparent to Suzanne Collins. Sadly, however, Mr. Dashner’s conclusion to the trilogy, The Death Cure, does not have the revelatory, bigger-than-it-seems, allegorical impact of its parents, The Shadow Children and The Hunger Games. This effort is less of a cinematic triumph and more of a movie-of-the-week, satisfying enough if nothing better is on at 2 a.m. However, Mr. Dashner has shown promise and my students like his work, so I look forward to his next project.

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