Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken5:35:00 PM
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Rating: ★★ 5/5 Stars
Published: Dec. 18, 2012 by Disney Hyperion
Summary (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.
From a writing standpoint, this book is in all shapes and forms a masterpiece. Because I’ve studied creative writing at my high school for the past four years, I’ve come to a point where when I read books, I subconsciously edit them, too. A large part of our creative writing curriculum is peer editing and critiquing, where we each get a copy of our classmate’s piece (be it a story or poem or play) and we are given time to read through it and mark up the pages with grammar and sentence structure edits, comments, questions, etc. and are then able to give the person our feedback and critiques before handing them back the copy we marked up so that they may take these notes into consideration for their next draft. While I most certainly do not carry a read pen with me whenever I read, my mind has been trained to look beyond the story itself and take into consideration things like imagery, sentence structure, clarity, descriptions, and the ever-present concept of “show, don’t tell”.
It’s almost as if my brain is split into two halves while I read any book: the half of me that is in it for the creative and storytelling aspects, yearning for a good story; and the technical half that automatically clicks on whenever I am presented with a piece of writing, the half that seeks out every mechanical, grammatical, and structured part of a piece.
Now, that being said, I am by no means an expert in any right. I’d like to become one, which is why I’m choosing to follow a career path in publishing, but right now I’m certainly not calling myself an experienced person in this profession. What knowledge I do have in this area, however, is what leads me to call Alexandra Bracken a spectacular wordsmith with a voice so unique and special as an author.
I am sick and tired of dystopian stories. To me, they all tell one version or another of the same “the government is corrupt, the world has gone to pieces, adults are the enemy for whatever reason, and teenagers are our only hope” tired tale. That isn’t to discredit the amazing dystopian stories out there that follow these plots, but I’d like to see the genre break away from the mold of a society that corrupted itself where only teenagers can save the day, with a love triangle tossed in for good measure. It’s beating a dead horse. Enough, people. Which is exactly why I was a little bit hesitant going into this trilogy blind. Yes, I will admit that I met Alexandra Bracken before reading any of her books. Shame on me. All I knew was that it was emotional and amazing, as described to me by many of my blogger friends, and the little bit of info the inside of the dust jacket supplied in the summary. However, months prior when I first bought this book, I did read the prologue and instantly knew this book would be a good one.
It smashed the stigma created by YA dystopian stories that have been on the market for so long. The concept was so refreshing, especially because it examined the immediate after-effects of a government and economic collapse in the US; rather than in the distant future. It was almost like a dystopia that took place during present-day. The plot follows a young girl named Ruby who wakes up on the morning of her tenth birthday to find that she is being taken away to a correctional camp indefinitely. A mysterious disease, abbreviated as IAAN, has been sweeping the nation and killing young children at an alarming rate. The survivors developed amazing abilities, and were sent to government facilitated camps to be “treated”. Ranked by their threat level and categorized into colors, the kids at these camps are ripped from their everyday life until deemed stable enough to return home. Ruby discovers her abilities aren’t what she believed they were, and is forced to hide in plain sight, pretending to be someone she is not in order to survive. These camps turn out to be more reminiscent of work camps during the Holocaust, however, and the next six years of Ruby’s life consist of days spent working the gardens, heavily monitored at every moment by PSI Special Forces officers, meant to keep the kids in line and prevent them from using their abilities. It isn’t until a strange woman helps Ruby escape from her camp that the now sixteen-year-old realizes the world – and people – outside of Thurmond’s walls is not at all what it once seemed to be.
Each character was so tangible and real in this story. I could easily slip into Ruby’s mindset, feel what she felt, each moment of fear or excitement or happiness. I could practically hear Liam’s slight Southern accent, could clearly picture Chubs and his standoffish smarty pants attitude. Though she never spoke a single word in the book, I felt as if Zu was the most vivid character of all the main group. Clancy made my blood boil, an antagonist I never trusted right from the start. Out of all the characters we meet in this book, I’d have to choose Zu and Liam as my favorites; though it was hard to pick, because I loved all of our main characters so much. Each was so different from the next, and the fact that Alex wrote such a diverse main cast of characters, what with both a black and an Asian main character, made me love them that much more.
I gave this book a full five out of five stars because of the realistic characters, the incredible caliber of writing Alexandra Bracken wields, and the heart-pounding, emotionally riveting tale it all weaves. There was never a dull moment to be had, each scene told in vibrant living color, each car chase, each action scene clearly laid out before me, it was almost cinematic. I mean, I bawled at the very end. I felt every emotion flowing through each of the characters at all points in this book, something truly rare and only a very skilled author can achieve. I spoke for days after finishing this book of how emotionally gripping and artful this whole book is, a work I appreciate on all levels as a writer and as a reader. I aspire to write as well as this one day. And as for Ruby and her friends, I cannot wait to see what comes next in the final two books in the series.