The Darkest Minds (Alexandra Bracken)

This was recommended to me by one of my colleagues when we saw the advert for the upcoming movie adaptation. I was planning on getting it from the library, but I slipped and bought it from Waterstones instead. I will confess I wasn’t really expecting much, I was expecting a Hunger Games, Divergent kind of trilogy – you know, the bedrock of dystopian YA with powerful teenagers shaking up the status quo. I thought it would be enjoyable for that reason, but I was surprised by how quickly I got into The Darkest Minds, and how much I enjoyed it.

In a post-tragedy America, the children that survived a deadly neurodegenerative disease have powers, and the government is afraid of them. So the children are squirreled away in camps for “rehabilitation”. Ruby has been at camp for six years, since she was ten years old, a powerful Orange with the ability to bend people’s minds, miscategorised as a more benign power. She’s terrified of herself. Then, she is given the chance to escape, and finds herself being transported across Virginia with two people she isn’t sure if she can trust. She chases after a small girl in yellow gloves, and finds herself on the run with other teenagers, from enemies on all sides. If they can find the East River, maybe they’ll be safe…

When I first started, I was expecting to be ambivalent, but once the story got going I found myself enjoying it. The main character is terrified of hurting people having been locked up for six years at the worst government facility being treated awfully. Ruby can be a bit irritating, but that’s part of the parcel of first person point of view – the narrator is typically bloody annoying. America has fallen apart economically and socially and everyone under twenty is apparently a source of income for bounty hunters. Also, America seems the only place to be affected by this neurodegenerative disease killing 90% of the kids and turning the remaining 10% into Marvel characters, so there’s that.

The side characters felt like they were fulfilling the “unlikely gang” stereotype – the unexpected family vibing in a minivan. Liam is the upbeat one with a plan, he mocks “younger nerdy brother” (not actually brothers) Chubs, and they are both fiercely protective of their little sister who has been traumatised into not speaking, Zu. Liam is full of self-loathing hiding behind a cheeky grin, Chubs doesn’t trust a single thing (except Liam and Zu) and Zu is very much the girly little sister – it fulfils the stereotypes rather charmingly, but genre stereotypes they are.

“It feels like we should do something,” he said. “Like, send her off on a barge out to sea and set her on fire. Let her go out in a blaze of glory.”
Chubs raised an eyebrow. “It’s a minivan, not a Viking.”

The Darkest Minds

I read a lot of reviews after I finished The Darkest Mind, and they seemed to be on two opposing spectrums – there were the “this is slow paced, awful and irritating” and the “holy cow this is as good as the Hunger Games”. My opinion falls somewhere between, because I thought it was well paced, and the psychological impact was interesting, but it also had that steadfast hope thing going on even as the MC reiterates they don’t believe that they can have hope ect ect. In my opinion, the heart of this book is about control and choice. Yes, there are plotholes, yes, the main character is slightly irritating – but her fear is grounded in her experiences, and kinda warranted. I thought it was a really good book, if a little predictable.

The romance was entirely predictable, but what I did like was how the potential love triangle element flipped so quickly, brining in the darkest side of control. I didn’t like how awful the actions were, but that they were addressed within the parameters of this world. I thought that the East River was predictable, as were some of the actions of people over the course of the book. So, it followed the conventions of the genre. That being said, despite being predictable, it was still a really good book, and I am pretty sure I can predict the next two books, but I’m going to read them anyway.

I guess my overall opinion is that The Darkest Minds was a typical YA dystopian, but a really good one (not quite the Hunger Games) with an interesting spin on control. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve read, nor is it the worst, and I am looking forward to reading the next instalment (but maybe from the library if I can find it).


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