The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken is another book I’ve had on my reading list since 2013. When I decided to make this my next book I had totally forgotten that this book too has to do with children with psychic abilities. And to be honest, I couldn’t help but compare this to Open Minds by Susan Kay Quinn. It’s probably not really fair to do that, especially since the premises of both novels are fairly different, but I couldn’t help it.
- Each story is about people with psychic abilities. In The Darkest Minds the society is just starting to experience the emergence of psychic abilities whereas in Open Minds the society has had mindreaders for a few generations and are “handling” those with extra abilities. The funny thing is that in both cases those people that can’t be handled are placed into internment camps.
- Each story has a female protagonist that has extraordinary abilities that she doesn’t know how to control and learns to do so during the course of the story.
- Psychic powers develop during puberty.
- Each story has characters who die
- Each story is told in the first person perspective of the female protagonist. (No surprise there since first person seems to be the fashion in children’s and young adult books.)
But that’s where the similarities end.
A WriterAlina Book Review
The Darkest Minds
So, I actually enjoyed this book even though I often had problems with various references that the characters would make (I often wondered “would someone who essentially grew up in an internment camp with a 4th grade education know that?”) and some convenient plot devices irritated me a bit, but over all this was an enjoyable story and I can understand why the young adult crowd would like it.
This summary is from Goodreads:
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.
The Story and It’s Delivery
As I said before, The Darkest Minds is written in Ruby’s first person perspective and I didn’t find it too bothersome. There was a lot of explanations for why she knew certain things and didn’t. The nice thing about being in Ruby’s POV is that she couldn’t hide any of her feelings of self horror from the reader. We are with Ruby every step of the way.
One of the downsides of the story structure is that the reader is thrown so fast into the thick of the story that we don’t really get a chance to understand fully what’s going on. The prologue is supposed to catch our attention, but I never really felt like it told me any information at that moment and nothing really made sense regarding that scene until much later, which made me wonder why it was there in the first place. Sure this was the moment leading up to Ruby’s “big change,” but that wasn’t obvious at the beginning. In my opinion, 10 year-old Ruby being on the bus on her way to Thermond would have been a much more effective opening. This sequence of sense tells the reader everything they need to know about the world of The Darkest Minds and Ruby’s danger. Everything else could have been “explained” afterward.
The progression of the story was interesting and full of emotional challenges for Ruby and everything gets even more complicated for her once she’s not in the internment camp anymore. It seems that she faces one loose-loose decision after another all the way until the end of the book. Overall the book is more emotionally charged than it is action packed, though there are some car chases, and fire fights.
My only other real irritation besides the off-putting beginning is the contrived ending. There was a obvious need for Ruby to end up in a specific place at the end and I was left wondering how she got there. I can’t say much more than that without giving spoilers. I just felt that things were set up from the main turning point for Ruby to end up where she does at the end and I felt a little cheated. It didn’t make sense why the last two or three choices she made had to be made other than to fulfill some need for future novels. The main choice was set up quite early in the novel and discussion about it came up often enough that when the choice at the end came I was left wondering “Why did she have to make this decision?” “Why is this the only way to achieve her goal?” (Of course these questions are paraphrased for spoilers sake.)
I enjoyed Ruby as a character, I thought she was genuine and realistic. Sure it was kind of strange that she’s living in the future and knows Elton John songs and knows the area codes in West Virginia (note: unless as a 9 year-old girl, she often has to dial phone numbers by hand, she would not know what the area codes of West Virgina are). Anyway, putting the funny inconsistencies of Ruby’s knowledge aside, in general she’s just as awkward as a 16 year-old teen who hasn’t had much exposure to boys outside the abusive Psi Special Forces soldiers that guard her internment camp. There are also some inconsistencies here in her reactions to boys and men, but they weren’t so bad that it made me put the book down.
I also thought that Ruby had a pretty reasonable progression as far as managing her abilities was concerned. She had a lot of fear and allowed others to help her overcome her fears. In the end she learns that she has abilities that could be unique to her, though there are so few children out there with her abilities that it’s hard to say.
The other secondary protagonists in the story Liam, Chubs, and Zu were all intriguing in their own ways. They all had their quirks, depths, and ways of speaking that made them distinguishable from other characters.
Though I felt that the spark of love between Liam and Ruby was a bit thin, sure they could be attracted to each other, but the fact that it was called love at any time was a bit of a stretch.
Zu was a fun female character that seemed to have similar self deprecating issues as Ruby. I liked how Zu was used to help Ruby with her own insecurities, but it was unclear why Zu had to leave the group other than to avoid her potentially being injured or killed during the story’s climax.
Chubs was my favorite of the secondary characters, even with his devil’s advocate attitude, but he was actually the most realistic of all the characters.
The rest of the characters were made from cardboard, even the Slip Kid, though of all the other characters he had the most extra thought put into him. He had motivations and some of them made sense, but I wished for more. But I’m sure that’s what the next book is for.
A Word Or Two About World Building
I have mixed feelings about the world building in this book. I liked how the kid’s abilities were categorized into colors, kind of like the fire danger code of Green, Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Red. Green obviously being the safest and Red being most dangerous. What I also found interesting is that each color had a specify set of psychic abilities that went along with their color rating. Apparently Green kids were just had heightened intelligence or something (kind of unclear why you’d keep smart people into an internment camp – but that goes along with a future comment). Blue kids had some form of telekinesis abilities. Yellow kids could manipulate energy, especially electricity. Orange kids had mind powers: could read minds, manipulate minds, or in Ruby’s case erase people’s memories. It’s not really clear what the Red kids’ abilities are, it was never really explained other than to say that they were dangerous enough to be killed.
The big problem I had with the world building is the justification of internment camps, especially since it seemed that kids had one of two fates in this world: the development of psychic abilities or death (natural death). Perhaps this is another issue that’s addressed in book number two, but I’d think that there would be a hell of a lot of people resisting having their children thrown into internment camps or rehabilitation centers or whatever, especially since if all the children are put into camps there’s no one to continue the human race. I get that this is supposed to be Dystopia and that humans put humans into internment camps and perform genocide a lot more often than we’d like to admit, but at least make it a little more believable for an adult and not just for a teen who’s looking for a good story.
My other big question was how this “problem” is supposed to be contained only in the United States and not happening all over the world. There’s something very fishy about that. Of course this is probably fodder for future novels, but still. How is that possible?
If you are looking for suspense and an emotional rollercoaster with a character who eventually learns to trust her abilities then The Darkest Minds could be for you. Again, like Open Minds, the concept is interesting but I wouldn’t put it at the top of your list of reads.
Have you ever read The Darkest Minds or any other of Alexandra Bracken’s novels? I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.