Darkest Minds by Alexandra BrackenTo be published by Hyperion Books
on December 18, 2012
Source: ARC from BEA
Summary from Goodreads: 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 take: As I look back on my 2012 reading archive, I see a fair amount of dystopian fiction. Which means that I've read about a lot of domed cites and underground cities. A lot of mysterious viruses and chemical weapons. A lot of matching/reaping/ binding/sorting ceremonies. A lot of evil leaders and kids who think they can save the whole world. When I reached this book on my pile, I almost took a pass.
I'm really glad I didn't.
The Darkest Minds is a book that had me thinking as I was reading, and kept me thinking for a while after I had finished.
I haven't read Alexandra Bracken's first book, Brightly Woven, a fantasy that earned her a nomination for Goodreads Debut Author of 2010 and racked up a lot of great reviews. But it makes sense to me that her prior book was a fantasy. While The Darkest Minds is not a fantasy, I think it does have some fantasy characteristics, which I'll get to later. It moves at a deliberate pace. It isn't one of those books that endlessly repeats and recaps every plot development -- you have to pay close attention while reading, or you'll find yourself paging back, trying to find that one small detail that you missed. And it's one of those books that keeps the reader in the dark at first, because all you know is what the main character knows.
In this case, that isn't much. Ruby has been living in a rehabilitation camp for the past six years and has very little idea of what's been going on in the wider world. Initially, I found Ruby a little hard to connect to --- but her standoffishness is completely true to the story and her character. She has every reason to be wary.
After her escape, Ruby meets a scrappy trio of kids in a minivan. This was the point at which the book really started to grab me. The minivan gang -- Liam, Suzume, and Chubs -- are a group of characters that wormed their way permanently into my heart. Like Ruby, they're on the run. They're trying to find the rumored safe haven of East River and this near-mythical guy called the Slip Kid. Are you sensing a quest here? Some fantasy themes? What's great is that Ruby doesn't initially buy into their dream. She's desperately trying to hide the fact that she has special abilities she doesn't understand and can't control. And after six years in the camp, she's a survivor. A cynic, not an idealist. She lies to our plucky trio, pretending that people are chasing her because she overheard some information. But then she finds herself falling for Liam.
I loved the fact that the relationships in The Darkest Minds were so realistic. There's no insta-love here. Ruby's not even up for insta-trust. And, when you're running for your life, do you really have time for that lip lock? Ruby does slowly warm up to the gang. And just when you think the group is making progress both strategically and emotionally, there are some major plot developments. Some big twists. Then, one of those endings that I kicked myself for not predicting, an ending that was felt both inevitable and completely, utterly heartbreaking.
I put The Darkest Mind on my favorite dystopian/post-apocalyptic list of 2012, and I highly recommend it.