I wavered between giving this three or four stars. I suppose if it had allowed me, I'd have compromised on three and a half. Dashner is only getting stronger in his writing, as well as his plotting. My reservation lay in content. While the protagonist is now thirteen, he is facing and witnessing some truly disturbing things--things I don't believe eleven-year-old readers are prepared to handle. I'm not sure if it's because the author had begun his YA series by now, but he's included some YA content in what should be a middle grade series, in my view.
The lines between the two genres are surely becoming blurred. Indeed, there has been on ongoing discussion in the media (and certainly punctuated yesterday by the Supreme Court ruling allowing extreme violence in video games marketed to middle graders) regarding the seeming uptick in the level of violence and sex allowed into YA fiction. To have that kind of violence creeping in here for what should be a middle grade read bothered me. Perhaps my memory's poor, but at least in Rowling's Harry Potter series, the protagonist was a year older in each sequel and the darkening seemed to happen more gradually with plenty of lighter moments to break up the tension.