The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
This book came highly recommended to me by a close friend back in high school when I was too preoccupied with all the fluffy romances and high fantasies on my shelf to hunker down and read a dystopia, which is not my usual MO. It’s taken me until now, two year after I graduated, to actually get around to it which is terrible because she was right and this is GOOD.
Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.
(PS if you’re reading this, Carla…I’m sorry! You told me so!)
The Darkest Minds is set in a dystopian world where, thanks to a mysterious disease that decimated the USA’s population of youth, all children who survived have developed strange powers. Some are dangerous–like those with a command over fire, electricity, and minds–some are tame–like the telekinetics and logical geniuses–but all are sent to ‘rehabilitation camps’ where they’re locked up because everyone else is afraid. Ruby, our MC, is sent to Thurmond–the worst and most brutal camp there is–and after years of abuse and forced labour escapes to a rag tag group of escapees from another camp. They team up to search for a rumoured safe haven, East River–led by a teen with powers as dangerous as Ruby’s–all the while evading the bounty hunters and terrorists and camp officers set to capture them. But when you’re locked away for years you’ll find the world is not the same as when you left it and a ‘safe haven’ might not mean safety at all…
Let me start off by saying that there is some crazy Holocaust-type sh*t that goes down in this book. Any children who survived are shipped off to labour camps where they’re separated by danger level into common bunks. They are all abused by officers, some are experimented on, and many are executed en masse if considered too much of a threat. Furthermore, the public is lied to and made to think the camps are good things.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting some serious Hitler vibes right about now. And if The Darkest Minds is the Holocaust, Thurmond is Auschwitz.
I was really intrigued. Bracken takes one of the darkest times in all of human history, modifies it, and puts it into a dystopia of a sort, which is the future. So, it seems to say, those events aren’t entirely in the past; if given a cause that scares us enough, we humans are still capable of that same great evil. It highlights the flaws and fears of humanity, and the selfishness, the immediate instinct to protect ourselves. The Darkest Minds, though not necessarily a dark book, paints a very dark picture of the world and people’s capacity to cause as much destruction as we can good. I found it utterly fascinating.
For all the excitement I had in the beginning of the novel while being introduced to the world, I lost a lot of it about 1/4 of the way in simply because it was lacking in action. A good chunk of it just follows the rag-tag group of powered-up teens road-tripping across the country to find their safe haven which makes a lot of it repetitive. I started to get bored. Bracken does do a good job though of throwing obstacles at Ruby and her crew to keep things interesting and eventful so I never had the chance to become totally bored. By the time I’d had enough, they’d reached the camp and the second half had already begun.
The book is basically split in two parts: the high stakes road trip and the too-good-to-be-true safe haven camp. The second part is steeped in so many layers of intrigue and deceit that I almost immediately forgave the lull in part one! And yeah okay, a lot of the issues I saw coming but the exact ways they happen are unexpected and strangely exciting even in their horribleness.
Character time! Ruby Ruby Ruby; oh how I love Ruby. She’s fierce, threatening, and at times a little scary (in a good way), but at the same time she is unbelievably caring and will do whatever necessary to ensure her merry band gets the happy ending they deserve. But none of this you would guess when you first meet her–it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the fragile, silent child Ruby starts out as with the fiery force she is at the end. Everybody out of their seats because this girl’s character arc deserves a standing ovation!
Just in case Ruby wasn’t cool enough already, her power is really original. The synopsis says she’s “one of the dangerous ones” so my immediate thought was fire–fire is almost always involved in danger! Hell? Bombs? Rituals? Dragons? Aelin? Hello! But oh, how wrong I was. I won’t say anything exact because I don’t want to spoil (even though you find out pretty early) so I’ll just say this: Ruby’s power has to do with memories, particularly unraveling them. I’ve heard of mind readers and mind control, but this? Never. It’s new. And pretty damn badass.
What’s most intriguing I found about Ruby’s character is that for all her chutzpah and feisty-ness, she’s absolutely terrified of herself. It makes her character even more complex and her growth even more profound.
As great as Ruby is, so great is also her merry little band! Little Zu is an adorable, sweet sugar plum (with a decidedly less sweet power), Chubs is endearing even when he’s being rude (which is most of the time), and Liam is unwaveringly loyal–though a little too trusting–and will do anything for the rest of them. He is also a hot Southern love interest–need I say more?
I will anyway! The love interest/romance stuffs carries through the entire novel but it’s not a massively huge focus element, and even when it is a focus it’s not overpowering. Because of this, the plot really comes through as central which is really refreshing! I adore my romance from the bottom of my love-loving heart but it just wouldn’t have fit that way in The Darkest Minds, so I’m glad for the way it is done and will hold out for more in the next ones 😉
Simply put, I should have read this book way back when my friend was on my case about it. Yes, I was bored at times and no, it’s not my usual cup o’ tea, but The Darkest Minds is original and intriguing and worth it. Plus, with that ending there’s bound to be more excitement with books two and three. And guess what?
I CAN’T FREAKING WAIT!
Click here for the book synopsis on Goodreads!