Book Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (Or the One With All the Friendship)

December 25, 2014 books, reviews 2

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken cover

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.

This book, guys. Okay, let me attempt to bring my notes into a coherent review, so I can convince you to read it. The Darkest Minds is one of those books that stands out from the mass of dystopian YA books in a way so few manage to accomplish. It has great characters, an interesting story and beautiful writing.

So basically almost all of the children in the US died from a mysterious disease, and the ones who survived develop psychic powers when they hit puberty. As some of those powers can be quite scary, some xenophobic idiot (or rather a lot of xenophobic idiots) decided to group all children together in work camps, where they cannot hurt the general public. Of course this is a great idea and society functions flawlessly after that genius decision. Not.

Ruby has been put into one of these work camps at the ripe age of ten. The childrens’ psychic powers are labelled by color from green to red once they get to camp. Ruby is an orange (which means she can get into people’s heads and manipulate them into basically anything), but because she has seen what oranges are potentially capable of, she is scared of her own powers and what people might do to her because of them, so she pretends to be a green. This works for a couple of years, but then there are Incidents and the story starts for real.

One of the strongest part of this book was its emphasis on friendship for me. Ruby, Chubs, Liam and Zu are so much fun to read about. My favorite character is definitely Chubs because I can identify with him (for better or for worse), but I liked Ruby as a protagonist. The love story didn’t really annoy me either (as it often does) because the author actually gives it time to develop rather than pushing it on the characters. Another positive point of this book is the writing style. It seems like Alexandra Bracken really took show don’t tell to heart because I never felt like she underestimated the readers’ ability to make up their own minds about things.

For the vast majority of the book, I really apreciated that, but Ruby uses her powers in very questionable, if explainable, ways later on in the book (no, I’m not just talking about THAT thing at the end) and no one ever mentions it. This bothered me a little, not because that shouldn’t have been in the book – it made her character a lot more interesting to me – but because no one implies that that might not have been the right thing to do. Of course I don’t really need someone to tell ME that; I can make up my own mind, but I would have liked for some of her friends to question her behavior. Of course this might still happen in the next book.

There were some other slight hiccups, for example I would have liked to know a little more about the different abilities (but I’m sure that’ll be unavoidable in the sequels anyway), and sometimes I thought Ruby sounded a little too educated. I mean let’s say I give her the benefit of the doubt when it comes to music and assume she was very extensively educated on classic rock as a child – that’s possible. But did I somehow miss the part where she went to her art class on Impressionism in the work camp, or why did she describe the world seen through the rain-smudged car windows like an “impressionist painting” (I’m putting quotes but I might be paraphrasing because I’m too lazy to find the page)? Towards the end, the book is also a tad bit predictable because it is obvious who the villain is. I saw some strong Tom Riddle parallels. That’s okay, but it didn’t exactly come as a shock when the Evil Plan of Evilness was revealed.

But let’s get back to the good stuff, of which there was plenty. The Darkest Minds is a very action-packed book. There’s always something happening and you never really know who you can trust. It’s not too exposition-heavy, but lets you figure out the world piece by piece. There’s a big chunk of the book that has that roadtrip feeling to it that I so love, which made me a happy reader. As is often the case with these novels, there are basically no trustworthy adults at all and the kids have to take care of themselves as much as they can. I didn’t really know much about the book before I started it, so it took some unexpected turns and went into a different direction than I expected in a very good way. There are a lot of different parties, each with their own agenda, which is a great set up for the sequels.

I could say way more about this book, but since I try not to include too many spoilers in my reviews I’ll leave it at that. It’s always the marker of a good book if you can’t shut up about it. In fact, I liked the book so much I ordered hardcover copies of all three books instead of continuing to borrow them from my roommate or wait for the paperback, so there.

What this ridiculously long review is trying to say: read the book, goddammit. Six out of five for my preciousss, but I ate half a cupcake because it’s Christmas.

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