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.
Trigger warnings: molestation and sexual harassment
It’s been a while since I read a really, really good YA science fiction.
As stated by the blurb, the story is about a teenager with a dangerous, inexplicable ability who has been locked away in a camp full of kids like her when she was just a child. According to the government, these abilities are the result of a deadly plague that either kills children or gives them supernatural powers, and the camps are designed to help cure them of their disease.
In reality though, and we figure this out very early in the book, the camps are simply a cross between torture camps and science labs where these helpless children are experimented on and brutally abused on a daily basis.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? I mean, there are so many novels out there with a similar premise about mutation/diseases resulting in human beings who are different and society’s immediate reaction is to fear them and hate them. And yet, The Darkest Minds is still unique and intriguing enough to keep its readers engaged because it is more than just a story about mutants trying to fight for their basic rights and it is more than just a story about good versus evil. What makes The Darkest Minds so beautiful in my opinion is the way the novel explores how this mutation personally affected each child and their respective families, as well as the society as a whole, and how the government manipulated and used this crisis to further their own agenda instead of helping its people. This novel also examines just how complex the oppression of a particular group can be, and how it is nearly impossible to break away from such oppression because the oppression began with a system that had been designed to work against these people. In this novel, Alexandra Bracken explores how difficult it is to dismantle structural abuse and how over time people become desensitized to it in their attempts to simply survive.
I also loved how there was no loophole whatsoever in the plot. I have this terrible habit of nitpicking a novel and trying to see if the author missed anything important–for instance, in a novel where children are either dying off before they can reach the age of 16 and those who survive are being, for all intents and purposes, expelled out of society, there would be a huge impact on world economy. Alexandra Bracken makes sure to cover these important aspects too, which made this novel all the more interesting to read.
I also loved the fact that there are no specific villain here–and there shouldn’t be, not with this premise. Besides the government itself, there are other antagonists who are morally grey, and while their complexity made this story exciting, I couldn’t help but feel terrible about the poor children who have no one who truly have their best interests at heart.
And of course, there are the characters. Each and every character, from our protagonist to the supporting characters were wonderfully fleshed out and well developed. Ruby, our narrator, reminded me of Juliette from Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series, but unlike Juliette, Ruby is much stronger; she is obviously a survivor and I loved that in spite of growing up amidst such violence she managed to stay sane and have a strong moral sense.
Liam, our MC’s love interest, is absolutely adorable and the non-romantic scenes between him and Ruby were just as good as the romantic ones. They complement each other perfectly, and I especially loved how protective Ruby felt about him–usually, that’s something we see in our male characters only, giving rise to the stereotype that men are generally the protectors and the women are the ones who need protection.
Chubs is also another adorable, sassy character and personally I shipped him with Ruby (though I knew it would never happen) because of the way they progressed from hating each other to respecting each other before finally learning to care deeply about each other. I believe that the best relationships are those that are founded on friendship, so I really would have loved to see these two become something more.
(Plus it would be nice to see the designated sidekick get the girl for once)
Oh and Zu! Every scene with little Zu made my heart melt. If only I could reach into this book and give this sweetheart a bear hug and shower her with a thousand kisses and sparkly dresses and remind her that she is not evil, no matter what the world said.
Honestly guys, just read this book for this darling eleven-year-old okay? You won’t regret it.
Now you might ask: if this book is all that great why not just give it 5 coffee cups?
There were certain important scenes during the climax of the story that were unclear and unambiguous–the writing was very vague and it was hard to understand what was actually happening. Normally I wouldn’t lower my rating for a book for just one flaw, but these scenes were so critical that I simply have to subtract one coffee cup.
We are almost at the end of this review but before I wrap things up there is something I would like to note: there is one particular scene of molestation in this book. I am mentioning this because as someone with a personal history of sexual abuse, this scene was very important to me. The author did justice to the response of the character in that situation, and though it did bring up some unpleasant memories it also made me feel…I don’t know…it also somehow made me feel less helpless and less alone about what had happened to me, because it was a reminder that there are other survivors like me too.
The ending was absolutely spot on! It was heartbreaking (of course it was) and it made me miserable for two whole days, but it was also crucial turning point for our characters, and I cannot wait to see how they grow in the next books.
All the world shall be your enemy, prince of a thousand enemies. When they catch you they will kill but first they must catch you, digger, runner, prince with all the swift excuse. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.
Are you a fan of YA Sci-fi and Fantasy? If so, what are the three things you love the most in this genre? Tell me in the comments below <3