The Darkest Minds

February 8, 2016
The Darkest Minds Book Cover The Darkest Minds
The Darkest Minds, #1
Alexandra Bracken
Dystopian Lit
Disney Hyperian
December 18th, 2012

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.

(from Amazon)

The Darkest Minds was a book I picked up knowing little about it. Published at the height of the dystopian-YA-novel craze, it has received rave reviews from many. Looking at the average rating for this book on Goodreads (4.29/5.0 on 70,173 ratings)– I had high hopes. Also, reading the synopsis I had high hopes. This book was gearing up to be something unique and different. A dystopian-concentration-camp-X-Men-road-trip with some romance tucked in for fun. I could get behind this, if only for the entertainment value.

Alas. As Imortan Joe says: “Mediocre!”

There were a number of things which distracted me about this novel. But the most pressing was implausible world building.

We enter into a world where a mysterious disease, Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN), has killed off some 95% of prepubescent children. With no preamble, the children are suddenly educated regularly about dying and death in school so they can cope with their friends falling over dead at any second. The other 5% who survive slowly develop crazy psionic powers.  When children start to develop these powers they are immediately rounded up and sent to “rehabilitation camps”. In these brutal concentration camps, the children exist doing mindless work in a brutal environment, seemingly for the sole purpose of keeping them locked up and emotionally oppressed until they die. Interestingly, powers are classified by colors. Blue, green, and yellow are the more “harmless” colors. Red and orange are the “violent” ones. And that’s all the we get on those colors for the majority of the book.

The darkest minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.  – Charles Carrington Meriwether IV, aka “Chubs”

There is so much about the world above I question– I omitted a ton of details! (Series of questions I am still asking: psi  Would there still be no explanation of IAAN? Where did it come from? Why does it only affect children? It is implied this is only an issues in U.S.A. Is it really? If so, why is the world watching America crumble with this issue? If not, why haven’t we heard anything about this? Would parents have really given up their children so quickly to these concentration camps, particularly considering the majority of children have died from IAAN? Why are these children rounded up? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be trained as super soldiers, instead of working for no reason? What is the plan for repopulation? What do the colors really mean? It’s obvious these kids have incredible strength in their powers. With thousands of them locked together, why are they just taking the abuse? Why can’t we explain anything about these powers at all? Particularly since we’re spending the whole book with characters who have them?! ) … … … Rant over. But, do you see what I mean? It’s hard to get behind all the holes in this world.

I feel like this book is also a bit scatterbrained. Yes, Ruby is trying to find her way in the world. As someone who has spent her entire pubescent life in these camps, she escapes feeling broken, confused, scared, and naive. I actually really love that about our protagonist: She missed a lot of critical development, and that makes her character believable. But it also makes her frustrating. She can’t make up her mind. In fact, the whole book feels like all the characters are geared young when only Ruby should be developmentally behind the others. All sorts of things happen on this road trip, many of which are just circumstance, but little of it draws me in and shows me the story is going anywhere. I found both Ruby and her journey a challenge to connect to.

That girl was gone forever, and all that was left was a product of the place that had taught her to fear the bright things inside of her heart. – Ruby Daly

Once we venture far enough into the story we better understand some drivers, things change substantially. And quite abruptly. Suddenly, Ruby stops being this scared character and becomes something else entirely. It feels like an uncomfortable and sudden shift. Just like the romance. BAM! Romance! It was… distracting.

When a girl cried, few things are more worthless than a boy. Having two of them just meant they stared at each other helplessly instead of at me. – Ruby Daly

There are definitely some good things about this book. I really enjoyed a number of the characters. I really enjoyed Zu. A dumb (as in can’t speak) character is not a disability we often see in books. I also loved the mystery around whether she is truly dumb, or if this is a sort of scar from being in the camps . I also loved the relationship between Chubs and Zu, and Chubs and Ruby. In fact, Chubs’ storyline was the only one I didn’t predict– and that was pretty cool.

There were some great messages in this book about oppression and understanding child development and needs. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“Listen to me very carefully,” she said … “The most important thing you ever did was learn how to survive. Do not let anyone make you feel like you shouldn’t have — like you deserved to be in that camp. You are important and you matter. … I will never hurt you, or tell at you, or let you go hungry. I will protect you for the rest of my life. I will never fully understand what you’ve been through, but I will always listen when you need to get something out.”  – Cate Connor

This is an important message for anyone who has been oppressed. When you are taught for years that you’re not important and psychological games have broken down everything you thought you were, you need reassurance. This will not be something solved overnight, and you need to be patient with the years of repair required. I am glad I read this book if just for this quote. More people need to hear this more often; whether you can see their scars or not.

This quote surprised me.

And, you know what? I enjoyed that this book surprised me. I’ve read way more dystopian YA than I’d care to admit, so I was a bit shocked at the surprise factor. It was darker than most books I read, and that was a good thing. Surprises kept jump up, but I didn’t feel like I received Mortal Danger Fatigue.

In the end, I closed the book without caring to know more about these characters. We ended on a really strong note with quite a cliffhanger. But, the fact that I am not inclined to pick up the next book doesn’t speak well of the series. … I don’t think I even care enough to wonder where the story goes, despite the cliffhanger.

2 stars

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