7 May 2015

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Release Date: 18th December 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 488
Format: Paperback | Purchased

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Synopsis (from GR): 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.

My thoughts: I came late to the party with this one. I've been seeing rave reviews for it all over GoodReads and Tumblr - people are touting it as being the next The Hunger Games, a YA dystopia that you could actually see happening. I didn't love it as much as I thought I would, but I liked it enough to want to check out Never Fade... for whatever that's worth.

Going into The Darkest Minds, I didn't know what to expect. Ever since The Hunger Games was turned into a multi-billion dollar franchise, publishers have been churning out YA dystopian after YA dystopian, many of which are really romances pretending to be dystopians - I'm not really sure the authors understand what a dystopian novel sets out to do (for my HSC comparative study unit, I studied Blade Runner and Brave New World, so if nothing else I judge dystopian novels pretty harshly). Bracken had the foundations of a really good novel, but it wasn't executed as well as I'd hoped, and a lot of questions I had about the world she'd created were left unanswered (hopefully they're addressed in the next two books).

In Bracken's world, a virus has killed off most of the teen population. The ones that survive are Psi, gifted with powers such as mind control, telekinesis, and memory manipulation. They are placed into concentration camps and sorted into colours: Green and Blue aren't so bad - and if you're at Camp Thurmond, being one of those two colours is most probably the only way you'll survive - but Yellows, Oranges and Reds are seen to pose a serious threat to the population and are killed. Ruby is one of the children sent to Camp Thurmond - she's an Orange capable of memory manipulation, and manages to convinces the officer conducting the test that she's actually a Green. Convinced that the PSF officers are hunting down any Yellow, Orange or Red children hiding in the camps, Ruby is broken out of Camp Thurmond by a group of insurgents, but later runs away from them, too. She falls in with a crowd - Suzume, Chubs and Liam - looking for 'the Slip Kid,' who they hope can offer them protection and help them to find their families.

Bracken is an author who doesn't spell things out for her readers - which I appreciated - but I still felt that there were important plot points that were left unanswered or brought up and then completely ignored. For example, we know that a disease killed off most of the children in the US, and gave the remaining children supernatural powers, who were placed in what were essentially concentration camps. How did they get these powers from that disease? We know that the government were doing experiments on these children, shouldn't there be at least a theory floating around? It appears that this disease was something that only affected the US population - Mexico and Canada apparently built huge walls to keep US citizens out, and there's an English character who mentions she'll need to bribe customs officials to re-enter the country after being in the US. Why only the US? There's a ban on having children following the outbreak - or at least a lot of restrictions placed on reproducing - but wouldn't this mean that the US population is going to die off at some point in the near future? What makes the officers so willing to put children as young as ten in concentration camps and kill them? At points, the officers seemed flat and one-dimensional. I know I keep coming back to why why why in my reviews, but if a character is going to be painted as a bad guy with no redeeming qualities, I need to know what led them down this path, because we are all morally grey. At one point it felt like Bracken was suggesting that the officers were acting out of fear, but this idea was introduced rather late in the book. I had a lot of questions based on the premise of this world that I hope will be explained in later books. It's also suggested that each colour correlates to a certain power (like, blue is telekinesis, orange is mind control or manipulation), but this also wasn't really explained (except that Yellows, Oranges and Reds were the most dangerous), so I'd have liked a clearer idea of what each colour meant.

This is very much a character-driven novel, and it really is the main cast that makes this such a great read. Although I struggled to connect to Ruby at times, I really loved Liam, Chubs and Suzume, and they are what kept me emotionally invested in this novel. The writing moves at a brisk place, and while there are points where it feels disjointed - most noticeably the action scenes - for the most part it is a smooth, reasonably-well-plotted novel. Like I said earlier, Bracken does not assume that because she is writing for a younger audience, she needs to spell everything out for her readers - for the most part, she drops clues that an astute reader can pick up on. I could see Bracken leading us to a Ruby/Liam romance, but if I'm being honest, I'm not sure what made Ruby fall in love with Liam, or vice versa. It's hard to see what they connected over - aside from being locked in a concentration camp, something that Ruby shared with multiple characters in this book - and there's points where they don't see each other for days, so it felt like the romance was underdeveloped and a little forced, but once it was there, it was the driving force of the novel. Underdeveloped romance or not, the ending scene between Ruby and Liam made my heart hurt.

Overall, The Darkest Minds wasn't a bad book - it's just that the hype left me wanting more. I wanted more explanations, more answers, more detail. Although I felt that the world-building was a little fuzzy, Bracken's story is highly original and a welcome addition to YA dystopia. The ending gave me high hopes for Never Fades - which I checked out at the library today so you can probably expect a review for it sometime in the near future. 


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