Series: The Darkest Minds #1
Published by Disney Hyperion
Published on December 18th 2012
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic, Emotions & Feelings, Fiction, Love & Romance, Romance, Young Adult
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.
World Building- 9/10
Quickie Review- As the release date for In The Afterlight (the last book in the series) gets closer, it’s time to review the one that started it all.
Well, I discovered The Darkest Minds on Goodreads early last year, and I finally got around to reading it last fall. I loved it so much, and I read the sequel right after. But I had to wait about a year for the last book (In The Afterlight) to come out, so I forgot a lot of stuff. I decided to do my first ever voluntary re-read of a book (I NEVER re-read books) to remind myself of the story and characters. I was worried that the re-read would disappoint, but I was happy to find out that the second read-through was almost as satisfying as the first.
The Darkest Minds has a cool and freaky concept- kids are dying due to a new disease, and the few survivors are developing special powers (classified by colour). The government sends these kids to “rehabilitation” camps that don’t “rehabilitate”, but work like Nazi concentration camps for children. This story follows Ruby, a dangerous one who has been in Thurmond Rehabilitation Camp for six years.
The plot is good overall- it is very interesting how Bracken arranges the novel time-wise; it hops back and forth between time periods to reveal information, which may get a little confusing at times, but actually works quite well in creating suspense and intrigue. (Note: this also happens in the second book.) The plot does start off slow, but it gradually gets more exciting as the book goes on. There are places in the middle of the book that are kind of slow-paced and sluggish, but those scenes are made so much better by the near immaculate character development (more to come about that later). The climax is truly confusing and unpredictable; the last 50 pages are utter chaos and pandemonium that will surely have your heart racing. The book ends on one of the most heartbreaking and emotional closing scenes I’ve ever read that just about had me in tears; it does segue nicely into the second book, though. So even though the pace does have its lapses, there are plenty of other characteristics that will have you hooked.
The characters are amazing- Ruby is a fantastic character. She has been raised without parents in a hellhole for about six years, and thinks that the future is grim. Once she surreptitiously gets out of Thurmond, it hits her like a ton of bricks that she is dangerous. She is not like the other characters with powerful abilities- what she has is petrifying and absolutely lethal. This makes her very vulnerable and prone to attacks, which leads to suspense throughout the entire book. She also has a tremendous mental struggle where she almost convinces herself that she is a monster and that she doesn’t belong with her companions:
“They’d taken in a monster, thinking it was a mouse.”
Another psychological battle she faces is that she can see the logical way to go, but she lets her emotions make decisions because she can’t help it. And she beats herself up over that. Ruby is very strong, very relatable, and very complex in the conflicts that go through her head.
The supporting cast was stellar as well. Chubs is your classic example of a person who isn’t who you think he is. Even his name is misleading: Chubs is actually quite skinny. At first, he doesn’t trust Ruby at all (and rightfully so), and it is really interesting to see how their relationship develops as time goes by. It’s nothing I can explain to you without spoilers, so read the book to find out. Chubs is the voice of reason in this book, and tries to think of the most logical way to solve a problem, but the sad part is that he is also affected by emotion in the same way the others are. He genuinely cares about his friends, and Bracken shines a light on that numerous times in The Darkest Minds. Chubs also is really funny: his dark humor and witty wordplay is great for comic relief in times where you least expect it. He and Liam have good dialogue that can brighten up the slowest of scenes:
“Why are you so weird?”
“Because my weird has to be able to cancel out your weird, Lady Cross-stitch.”
“At least what I do is considered an art form.”
“Yes, in ye olde medieval Europe you would’ve been quite the catch-”
Speaking of Liam, he is in my top three favourite male characters in fiction. He shares that title with Percy Jackson and Simon Lewis, which is pretty high praise. Liam is absolutely a breath of fresh air. He is one of the most charming, down-to-earth characters you will ever meet. He’s the epitome of sweet, he says all the right things, and his emotions are so easy to read, which is a very endearing flaw. You can tell when he’s happy, and when he’s hurt beyond repair. He gets awkward and self-conscious all the time (and Chubs is hilariously there to call him out for it), which makes him relatable, but he is also strong, brave, and a great leader. The way he treats his gang is unselfish, kind, and respectful. As a bonus, he uses Southern terms like darlin’ and missed ya somethin’ fierce that make him even more likable. We for sure need more guys like Liam in YA fiction.
“He’s so busy looking inside people to find the good that he misses the knife they’re holding in their hand.”
Liam and Ruby’s relationship is nailed. Nailed. The way the relationship us built up is very gradual. It doesn’t happen all at once, but the romantic tension is there beneath the playful banter, and it keeps building. Ruby knows that she can’t afford to get too close to him, which makes it even more complicated. They have so many awesome scenes together, and the fragile ship slowly builds. Liam has some of the best lines I’ve ever seen:
“Did you know…you make me so happy that sometimes I actually forget to breath? I’ll be looking at you, and my chest will get so tight…and it’s like, the only thought in my head is how much I want to reach over and kiss you.”
“Never, never, never. I am never going to forget you.”
“Cause, frankly, the way I see it, you and me? Inevitable.”
“Ruby, give me one reason why we can’t be together, and I’ll give you a hundred why we can. We can go anywhere you want. I’m not your parents. I’m not going to abandon you or send you away, not ever.”
And no matter how hard Ruby tries to pull back, she can’t help but fall for Liam Stewart. And Ruby feels so bad that she’s dragged Liam into a political war he never wanted to fight, even though Liam keeps reassuring her that it’s all right. The relationship keeps building and then, right at the very end, Ruby makes a decision that will completely alter the shape of both of their lives. This moment is one of the most gut-wrenching, powerful scenes I’ve ever read, and you’ll be hard-pressed to keep your emotions in check here. Anyway, Liam and Ruby’s relationship is handled with meticulous care and is definitely one of the best I’ve been able to read about.
The gang does an exceptional job of welcoming Ruby into the family, and this is a testament to the camaraderie between the characters that grows as the books goes on:
“I can’t do this anymore,” I cried, “Why won’t you just leave me alone?”
Because you would never leave me.”
“Try to imagine where we’d be without you, darlin’, and then maybe you’ll see just how lucky we got.”
The main villain in the book (I won’t say his name because he comes up quite late in the book) is interesting. He reminds me of Warner from the Shatter Me series in that he takes a special interest in the protagonist. He’s remarkably cunning, powerful, impossibly charming, and deceptive. What makes him interesting is that he and Ruby are quite alike in the powers they possess- he’s just refined his skills a lot more. The dynamic between him and Ruby is very important, and it definitely enhances the book overall.
The writing is exceptional– it is written in first person perspective in the past tense, and the writer does a wonderful job of describing what’s going on as well as showing the reader what each character is thinking and going through. The only reason I’ve been able to provide so much analysis of the characters is because the writing is fantastic. There are so many memorable quotes here, and every paragraph is descriptive, meaningful, and powerful.
The Darkest Minds is an emotional roller coaster ride. You will be hooked from the very first page, and the book will slowly reveal some jaw-dropping secrets and keep posing new ones. Alexandra Bracken will tear your heart out, cut it into pieces, and sew it back up, only to then take a hammer to it and turn it into mush again. This book has that kind of power. And when you reach the end, you’ll be emotionally drained: you’ll either be crying or speechless or clawing for the next book. Or all of the above.
This book is cruel.
This book is horrifying.
This book is emotionally taxing.
And guess what? It’s pretty damn beautiful.
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