Series: The Darkest Minds #1
Published by Disney Hyperion on December 18th, 2012
Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Dystopian
When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.
Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have 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 having a life worth living.
For me, the dystopian genre usually involves at least one of three things: 1) The world as we know it has ceased to exist and now resembles a wasteland where humans fight for their life, or 2) A virus has spread across civilization and wrecked the hell out of the human species, or 3) Children run the world.
In that sense, The Darkest Minds is your stereotypical dystopian read with points 2) and partly 3) fulfilled. This book is a debut and it reads like one. The writing needs a polish, the pace sometimes stutters, and half the characters aren’t fleshed out. And yet, The Darkest Minds is enjoyable from start to finish, because we’re talking camp breakouts, car chases, supernatural abilities, and an ending that will tear your heart out and eat it in front of you.
“The Darkest Minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.”
The story is set in the US after a disease called IAAN has spread across the population, only targeting children. The world-building barely exists, merely by the way of “look, there’s a town here” and so on. The idea behind IAAN and the camps that were set up to confine children affected by it was interesting, even if lacking in its execution in the first instalment (yes, this hints at improvement as the series progresses). Due to alterations of the brain, supernatural abilites like mind control and telekinesis resulted from the IAAN epidemic. Speaking of our little super-computer upstairs: The psi on the cover already hints at the major role of neuropsychology in this series, so stay tuned.
One of the children affected by IAAN is Ruby. Now, as most readers, I thought of Ruby as a promising character when she was introduced. Her backstory, quick thinking, and ability to blend in struck me as an interesting foundation to develop a character. The long period of her life she has spent in the camp have clearly left its mark, but she had the potential to unfurl like a knot. This does, however, not happen. Ruby remains plain, passive, and ultimately unnerving with her lack of a backbone. Her personality is made of cardboard, she does not actively intervene with events once she has escaped, and the constant whining about her terrible, terrible, dark and twisted powers sooner rather than later started to irritate me. Her competitor for ‘Most Cardboard-like Character’ is Liam. Listen, I know he’s sweet, protective, and charming with his little southern state lilt, but he completely lacks any distinctive characterization. If it had been up to me, I would’ve made Chubs and Zu my main protagonists, because those two are awesome. Chubs is nerdy, cautious, witty, and the only character to ever raise suspicion against Ruby’s integrity. He’s also the only Afro American character, as far as I know, in this series, so let’s praise him a little more for the sake of diversity. Most of all, I adored little Zu. Zu is a mute Asian girl with electrokinetic powers who has clearly been traumatised in her past. She’s utterly adorable with her oven gloves, her quick trusting of Ruby, and her sneakiness. Seriously thinking about an adoption here, just saying. This makes the runaway crew complete. Also a major player on this children-rule-the-world chessboard is Clancy. Now, Clancy is your typical handsome rebel leader, pulling on the main character’s heartstrings, who immediately reeks of trouble. That said, I wouldn’t file this book under ‘love triangle’, but the brief attraction between Ruby and Clancy was utterly uncalled for. And since we’re walking down romance lane: The chemistry between Ruby and Liam was as inexistent as their personalities. It lacked the same profundity the characters did. And I hate it when a romance develops between two characters merely because they’re on the run together. Come on, that is utter mere exposure rather than a meaningful bond (I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in real life, but the probability seems rather smallish).
Though the plot kept me involved, the pacing is a little off at times. The beginning and ending intrigued me with actiona and fast pacing, but said pacing goes slack as soon as the crew reaches their desired destination. The writing was a bit plump but serviceable in its style, but at times so confusing with its gaps in the train of thought. From time to time, I struggled to follow with what was happening (especially during the fast-paced, action-packed scenes) and had to reread those passages several times to comprehend them. I have the same issue with this book as I had with Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton: The author’s thoughts are a pile of knotted strings instead of being layed out as parallel lines, and it’s visible on the pages. This, of course, is a curse that often befalls debut authors, but it dampens the enjoyment of a book, which is a shame.
What Bracken did really well, in my opinion, was the ending. THAT ENDING. It is tense, dark, and cruel. I’m so proud of Bracken for not sugarcoating the ending but giving the readers the feels they’ve been craving throughout the book. This is how you end a first instalment. Forget about sunshine and rainbows, we want our bones shattered and our hearts ripped out (not literally, that is).
Overall, I’d say that The Darkest Minds is a great read if you can look past the flaws this debut has and concentrate on the excitement of supernatural abilities, action-packed scenes, and moments of betrayal instead.