THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken – Book Review

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Author: Alexandra Bracken

Genre: Sci-fi

Series: #1 in the Darkest Minds trilogy

*Rating: 5/5 (First one of the year!)

Synopsis (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.

“The darkest minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.”

Ψ Non-spoiler thoughts Ψ

So I know more than a few of you are probably thinking “Really? This book was popular years ago, and you’re just now reading it?”

Yes, yes I am.

This is one of those series that I’ve had on my TBR for years, and was beginning to just give up hope that I’d ever get around to reading it. But. Then I heard that the first book is being made into a movie (next year, 2018, I believe), and it rekindled all the interest and excitement I had for this series. It’s kind of silly, but I thought “It’s not too late. I can read it now and still say that I read it before it was super popular…” (That’s my inner book hipster talking😂)

And man am I so glad I picked it up!

But first I want to point out a tiny detail that probably doesn’t even matter, but it still bothers me. This book has been labeled in blurbs as ‘dystopian.’ It’s not Dystopian. I would call it Apocalyptic, or an end-of-the-world book. The difference between the two is that apocalyptic works focus on the end of the world; we were just going about our normal lives when BANG! The plague! World war III! Zombies! Aliens! Dystopia is what happens after the end of the world, when humans rebuild the new world, but many years later it has become corrupt. So the focus of a dystopian is to rise out of one’s normal life to bring humanity back to what it once was, back before the apocalypse.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…

This is definitely a book best showcasing it’s characters. Each of them are beautifully complex and feel so real, you feel like you’re running from the government in a beat up mini-van right along with them. I especially love the character chemistry; Bracken has enough diverse personalities that it makes for some amazing dialogue, and I feel a kindred spirit to her sense of humor. Seriously, you’ll find yourself cracking up out loud at the most unexpected moments in this book.

Another thing I loved was the pacing. Bracken has a talent for storytelling in a perfectly compelling and natural way. The action and non-action parts are well balanced, so that you’re constantly on the edge of your seat while at the same time feeling like you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

I can’t wait for the movie (though of course I’m a bit dubious as to whether they’ll do this masterpiece of a book justice). If you haven’t picked this book up yet, then what are you doing? Go. Read. Enjoy. You won’t regret it (and you’ll be able to say you read the book before it was a movie).

That’s it for my non-spoiler thoughts, so if you haven’t read this book yet, click away because further than this point I’ll be stepping into spoiler territory. 🙂


Ψ Spoiler thoughts Ψ

So when I first heard of this book (maybe around 2013?) I was hesitant to pick it up for a few reasons:

1. I heard it was Dystopian, and with all the other Dystopians I’d read I wasn’t really feeling up to reading another one. For me, Dystopian is one of those genres that  I have to be really in the mood to read, because with all the common themes and tropes, it can get a little repetitive.

2. It was a trilogy, and I really didn’t like how most book series in those days were trilogies, especially since I think that most of them really didn’t fit the format. I was hesitant that this series would fall into the shadow of a million other trilogies that either rushed the ending to cram into 3 books, or stretched out a story that could have been 1 or 2 books.

3. This one is perhaps the silliest. Looking at the cover, I expected it to be so dark and depressing. I mean, the title is the Darkest Minds…I thought it would just be a sob fest over how the world is ending and there’s nothing we can do about it. I know! I judged a book by it’s cover, and I’m so ashamed.

But boy was I wrong! (Well, technically I’ve only read book 1, so I don’t know if it’ll make a good trilogy.) I’ve already established that it is in fact not a Dystopian, and not just because it’s more than the base definition of the term; many common tropes that I’ve come to roll my eyes at in Dystopian aren’t present in The Darkest Minds. But anyway, the most important detail, the fact that I judged this book by it’s cover, was sooo off from what the book actually is. I expected doom and gloom, but what I got was a beautiful, hilarious story of a rag-tag group of kids on a road trip to survive.

I don’t think I can stress how much I loved the scenes in Black Betty enough. Bracken definitely utilizes this time well; she uses it as a time to get to know each character’s personality, and to flesh out the different relationships between the characters too. That’s something that I think distinguishes a good cast of characters from a great one; not only are they all unique, but the way they interact with different individuals of the group are unique too. For example, the way Chubs interacts with Liam (that of the voice of reason) is very different from the way he interacts with Ruby (a growth from distrust to unwavering loyalty, not to mention how they both seem to have this more melancholy, deep-thinking trait that they recognize in each other).

I love how Bracken allows her characters to just be kids. She makes a point to mention that these kids have had their childhood ripped from them, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be what they are: kids. They joke and laugh, they jam out to the radio, they do math homework…It makes them more real, to have real human desires for a normal life, even amidst disaster.

Speaking of those jokes, there are so many quotes that I wish I could put in here! Every punch line and joke was pure gold! But one of my favorites that I wrote down was when the crew was stopping by Waffle House:

There were, apparently, only two resturant chains left in the state of Virginia…Cracker Barrel and Waffle House – and one wasn’t open before nine o’ clock in the morning.

“Thank goodness,” Liam said in a solemn voice as he parked a short distance away from Waffle House. “I don’t know how we would have chosen between these two fine culinary establishments.”

I live in the South, the main area where both these food chains are located, and yes it is a very close call between Waffle House and Cracker Barrel. Luckily, Waffle house is open 24 hours. Geez, just thinking about it makes me hungry for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich and hash browns, and warm pecan pie…

Wait, what was a talking about? Oh, yeah…

Wait! No! I just noticed, it says they ordered pancakes. They don’t have pancakes at Waffle House! Waffle. House. At least, none of the Waffle Houses in my home town serve pancakes…

Sorry, I just went off on a rabbit trail there. I will calm my inner Southern for now (But pancakes?! Really??)

Let’s talk main characters, because they are amazing. I love how the complexity of each character is kind of time-released. We’re often handed a first-impression, and then Bracken leaves us a bread crumb trail to slowly reveal that they are much more (or completely different from) that. And each character has a fitting balance of strengths and flaws. For example: Liam is optimistic and a natural leader, but he is deathly afraid of failure, and his contagious enthusiasm can lead to over-idealistic thinking and brash decisions. Chubs is more closed-off and pessimistic, but he is fiercely loyal; he doesn’t trust other people easily, but this means that if he does trust you, he is someone you can always count on to be there for you. Zu is very expressive and positive, yet has been dealt cards in life that have rendered her unable to fully express herself sometimes, and have given her every excuse to destroy that positivity. Ruby desires above everything to protect the ones she loves, but her abilities cause her to distance herself from them. I cannot stress enough how much I love these characters.

So for the longest time on this road trip, Ruby is hiding the fact that she’s an orange, because she’s afraid that the crew will think her too dangerous. This made me so frustrated, because come on Ruby, they’re psi too! They’ll understand! And when we finally get to the scene where she’s forced to use her abilities, she passes out and we overhear a conversation between Chubs and Liam and I freaked out. But no, they were talking about Betty. I was so hooked on the story though that all I could think was no. no. NO.

And then we get to East River, where I am immediately on edge because everything just seems too good to be true. When I looked back on my notes, there were a ton of places where I was just debating with myself whether or not to trust Clancy. And the thing is, even after finishing the book, I want to like him. I want him to be a good person. That’s how convincing an antagonist he is. There’s a phrase kind of tossed around, I don’t know who originally said it but I remember hearing it on Writing Excuses (a podcast I listen to about writing advice), and it’s something to the effect of, “Your antagonist is the hero in his own story.” And I think Bracken does a beautiful job of this with Clancy. I think he truly justifies his own actions in his mind. (Even if he is a horrible, creepy person)

I can’t help but admire the predicament Bracken has set up for us at East river:

  • The living conditions are far better there than at any camp, but as Chubs pointed out, they still have very strict schedules and jobs, so in many ways it’s similar to one of the camps.
  • Clancy is (at least on the surface) the image of a perfect leader; kind, caring, charismatic – but he also manipulates the people around him, to the point that you can’t always tell when the feelings of those people are real and when he has planted them there (Ruby definitely is the best example of this, and what he did to her. Seriously?? Do you know what consent is, Clancy???)
  • And in general, East River is probably the safest place on Earth for Psi kids (or at least it was, before it was invaded), and yet there are still hundreds of kids out there in camps, and the kids at East River don’t get to see their families.

This dilemma creates amazing tension (and internal conflict within Ruby) during the crew’s stay at East River.

Some questions for Book 2 (Never Fade):

  • Where’s Clancy? What happened to him? My guess is that he’s in hiding, trying to find a way to re-establish his influence over his father, and get his army of reds back.
  • Who tipped the president off about Clancy’s plan? We still don’t know, and I have no good guesses.
  • IS CHUBS ALIVE??? I SWEAR IF HE’S DEAD…
  • WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN WITH LIAM NOW THAT HE’S FORGOTTEN RUBY?? WILL HE EVER REMEMBER HER?? (In my notes I have written: “Ruby! You selfless jerk!!! Why did you have to erase yourself from his brain!!”)
  • WILL WE EVER SEE ZU AGAIN? I DIDN’T WANT HER TO LEAVE!😭
  • Also, how are Ruby and Martin going to interact? Martin is creepy as heck, but with Ruby being being far more skilled with her abilities, I kind of hope we’ll get to see her wring his neck (or brain) in Never Fade.

Wow, that was a lengthy post 😂. If you cannot tell, this is now one of my favorite books, and I can’t wait to figure out what happens in the rest of the trilogy.

Did any of you guys read this series in its heyday? Are you as excited (and/or hesitant) as I am for the movie? Let me know! (no spoilers for the series, please)

And as always, have a lovely day and I’ll see you again soon! 🙂

-Abigail

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