The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
From Goodreads: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.
Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.
When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.
When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.
Review: 5 out of 5 Stars
I know it has been awhile since this book came out, and yet it keeps languishing the TBR shelf of so many of my friends on Goodreads, or worse, some people seem not even to have heard of it! No more. This shall not stand. This book is absolutely making my top reads of 2013 list. I love it with my whole heart and I really think you should read it. Here’s why.
In The Darkest Minds, a disease has swept through the nation, killing off a large percentage of children around the age of ten. Those who survive the disease are changed – imbued with various powers. Some children can control anything electronic, or perform telekinesis, and so on. Some children, like Ruby, have powers that can control other peoples’ minds in various ways. The development of these powers causes fear in the nation and throughout the government, so the children are forced to go away to rehabilitation camps run by the government. These are basically slave labor camps, and the children are terribly mistreated. Ruby gets by for a time by pretending to have some of the more harmless powers. But she is eventually discovered and forced to escape.
It’s once she escapes that the fun really begins. She meets up with a group of other teen escapees and they all head for the East River, a place they’ve heard is basically a haven for kids like them. The four teens – Ruby, Chubs, Liam, and Zu – get more than they bargained for, both along the way and once they arrive, and eventually Ruby is forced to make an incredibly tough decision that left me reeling.
The best part of this book for me was Ruby. The way that Bracken slowly unravels her story and her past, and shows what a struggle it is for her to be able to trust anyone and why is really beautifully rendered. Her actions make sense within the context of the story, even if I did want to yell at her a few times for not trusting her friends. She is a troubled young girl, which makes sense given everything she has been through, and yet still manages to find her own inner strength and draw on it.
One great part of the novel for me was her relationship with Liam. Ruby has so many walls up, it takes a long time for her to be able to trust anyone at all – including herself. Liam is a major force in helping her break those walls down and find that strength. Their romance was a slow-burn romance, developed over time and miles, built upon trust. Perhaps sixteen seems early for this type of relationship, but given everything they’d been through together it still made sense to me. He is not perfect by any means, but his decisions also made sense to me in the context of the world.
The novel is also funny, with Chubs serving as some comic relief, but also in some ways as the heart of the novel. You can’t NOT root for Chubs. I mean, come on, his dialogue was hilarious:
“Uh, no thanks. I read Lord of the Flies. I know how this works-everyone starts dancing around the fire and painting their faces and worshipping a decapitated pig head and then someone gets hit by a boulder and plummets to their death-and, surprise, it’s the fat kid in glasses.”
But also, he just had heart. He was tough to get close to, but once you got into his heart, that boy was not letting you go. Everyone deserves a Chubs in their life, and the development of the novel was as much tied to his arc in the story as anything else.
There were some parts of the world-building that were tough to swallow, like why parents who had already seen most of the nation’s children die would let their kids go off to rehabilitation camps. But is that any more unbelievable than any other dystopian YA where the parents let their kids do crazy, dangerous things because the government tells them to? That is what dystopians are all about! Some parents were scared and some thought it really was about rehabilitation. And some knew their kids would be taken and hid their abilities. Those parents made sense to me. And while I didn’t like the decisions that the other parents made, it didn’t take me outside of the story – it was just something I had to swallow about the way the world had developed, just like any other dystopian novel. There were also a lot of popular culture references for kids that had supposedly exited the world right around 10-years-old, but overall this also didn’t bother me that much.
I will warn you right now — the end of this novel kicked me right in the gut. It has been over five months since I read this one, and I still sometimes get emotional thinking about it. I will be one of the first ones in line to pick up the sequel when it comes out in October. My fingers are crossed that Bracken doesn’t veer too far from what made this one work, and that is beautiful writing, a fast-paced plot, and characters that lodge themselves in your heart and won’t let go.
As you can tell, I truly loved this novel. While I definitely closed this book wanting to know more about what happens in the world that Bracken built, to me the real story in this book was not about psychic powers or government failures or fear mongering. It was about friendship, pure and simple. It was about what you will do for your friends when literally everything is on the line. It was about learning to open your heart and trust and to allow your friends to make you into a better version of yourself. And about how far you will go to protect them. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.