Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds Alexandra Bracken
The Darkest Minds Alexandra Bracken cover

Title: The Darkest Minds
Author: Alexandra Bracken 
Series: The Darkest Minds #1 
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, YA 
Publication date: December 18, 2012 
Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: 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.
The darkest minds never fade in the afterlight.

I’ve been giving good to excellent ratings so many times lately that I’ve started to wonder if maybe I’ve gone soft. If maybe I need to take a break from reading YA for a while. But then I start comparing the books I read this year to the ones I read in 2013 and 2014 and I guess a lot of them just weren’t as good. It’s been a few days since I finished The Darkest Minds and I’m halfway through the sequel as we speak (finished the novella as well). I don’t regret hitting that fifth star. Not one bit. This was good. Really good. In most ways this is a typical dystopia, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete with the best. Yes. I said it. It has so much potential to become great.

This book had been recommended to me endlessly. Everyone kept saying I should read it, but I’d never really gotten around to it until this summer. And man do I regret putting it off that long. First of all, I had no idea what this book would be about. I didn’t read the blurb on goodreads, god, I didn’t even read the back of the book. That’s how clueless I was when I started it. Imagine my surprise at the setting I found myself in. Camps. Work/rehabilitation camps. They gave me the shivers actually. Still do. Mainly because I couldn’t help comparing them to the WWII camps, you know? I get that this is fantasy and that they were very different, but I suppose there’s no denying where the idea came from. These were all children, though. Jeez. That fucked me up big time.

The Darkest Minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.

Ruby. Ruby is one perfectly flawed heroine. What’s to say? I loved her. Not just because she was broken or because she stood up for herself and slowly turned into this brave and powerful young woman. All of that was true and all of that made me like her and want to throw my arms around her. But I especially admired her because of what she was willing to sacrifice for the ones she loved. There’s something dangerously compelling about sacrifice in these kind of circumstances. It took a long time for her to start trusting people again, to start accepting who she was, but she’s never half-in. She doesn’t make the easiest choices. She makes the ones that are necessary, however painful they might be for her. Ruby reminded me of June from the Legend series. They are very alike.

I think maybe the most frustrating thing in the world is to have something to say but not know how to put it into words.

It’s not just about Ruby though. She has to share the top spot in my list of favorite The Darkest Minds-characters with Liam. And Zu. And Chubs. All of the characters were just so different and well-built and excruciatingly likable. My heart is full of them. I couldn’t choose between them if you held a gun to my head and threatened to blow my brains out. Honestly. Zu was adorable, Chubs was loyal and the best friend you could ever ask for and Liam was so, so genuinely good it hurt. And then I’m not even talking about other characters that were profoundly shaped and complex, even if they appeared only for a short time. I. Am. Complete. Trash.

The romance in this book is really well handled. It never takes the focus on the main story away. It’s subtly finds its way in and it is never ever too cheesy. They sort of become friends first and I always appreciate that. They are my favorite kind of romances.

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.

You could read this book for the characters alone, but there’s so much more. The plot is really creative. Maybe the entire idea of children with special abilities isn’t new, but Alexandra Bracken owns it. She creates a world that sucks you in from the very first page. It’s a brutal one that lacks any kind of sympathy. There’s nothing about the circumstances she builds that you would ever envy. And that makes you very emotionally invested. You could feel bad for just about every one. Every character in this book has been shaped into what he/she is today by an impossibly awful past. The children in this world are struck by a virus that either kills them or makes them outcasts. Society fears them, loathes them. If they want to survive they have to build themselves a hard and terrifying life on the run. It sucks, but it beats the alternative of being sent into the ‘rehabilitation program’. Which should sufficiently prepare you for feels and heartache. Because ohmygod THAT ENDING.

The most important thing you ever did was learn how to survive. Do not let anyone make you feel like you shouldn't have.

Clearly there’s also a bigger picture. One that doesn’t become too clear in this first book, but will definitely be developed over the course of the next installments. I’m really curious to find out how things will work out. I have so many questions, so many suspicions, fears and hopes. I think it’s safe to say I will finish this series rather soon. No way I’ll stop reading until I know exactly how it ends. I guess there’s something to say for starting to read a series once all of the books have been published. It’s probably also a good thing I only started reading when most of the hype had died down already. If you are, like I was, waiting for the good opportunity to start don’t waste any more time hesitating. Just pick up the book and start READING.

Just to finish I want to react on something I read in the reviews of this book. Some people seem to think this book is too long. Let me tell you, I don’t want to read that ever again. If a book is good, it can never be too long. Honestly, I’m sick of young adult publishers trying to release as many books as possible, even when the story could have fit perfectly in just one or two books. Besides, the books in this series are not that long. So enjoy them.

Let's carpe the hell out of this diem.

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