Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

I did a quick tally on my Kindle and it appears that I have read almost a dozen dystopian YA novels in the past year (not counting sequels/subsequent books in series), including blockbusters like Divergent, Enclave, Wither, Matched, and The Selection. So clearly I deserve a cookie for making it through so much dystopian doom without offing myself, no!?

Cookie aside, the point is, The Darkest Minds is without question the best dystopian book I've read this year.*

This book is scary. Bracken creates a world that is so vivid and horrifying and gritty that you really lose yourself in it; it takes over your whole mood as you're reading and stays with you after you finish. I finished it late last night, fell asleep, and when I woke up this morning it took me a few minutes to remember why I had that pit of despair in my gut. Yep, because of a book. Well done, Alexandra Bracken, that is not an easy feat to pull off!

The premise of this book is really original. All of a sudden kids between the ages of 10-18 start dropping dead of a mysterious illness. About 2% or so survive, but they are . . . different. As their peers are keeling over, the survivors realize that they've suddenly developed a variety of special powers, powers the government categorizes by color. Reds can light things on fire with their mind; Blues can move objects with a thought; Yellows can manipulate electricity, and Oranges, the most feared of all, can control people's minds. Naturally, the adult-run government is not thrilled to have thousands of super-human children running around, so they round up all the kids into what are basically concentration camps to try to stomp out their "abnormalities." The book centers on a girl named Ruby, who is classified as a Green (one of the more innocuous colors), but is harboring a secret, which, if found out, would almost certainly mean her death sentence . . .

Having just recently finished Lexicon by Max Green, which is based on the idea that certain people ("poets") skilled at the art of persuasion can take total control over another person simply by uttering a few words, I've been musing about mind control a lot lately. It is a horrifying concept, obviously, and one that presents a lot of disturbing yet fascinating ethical dilemmas. Is it ever ok to slip into someone's mind, control their thoughts, make them do something? What if it's for their own good? And are you automatically a monster if you have that ability, or is there hope of redemption? These are some of the big questions that come up in The Darkest Minds, and Bracken does a superb job of showing how the characters grapple with them and struggle to retain their humanity in a world where they are being ruthlessly hunted.

One thing I really like in dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels is when the author gives us a glimpse into what life was like before all hell broke loose. It gives us some context that we can relate to, so that when we see these characters stumbling through a strange new heinous world, there is a point of reference. For example, I loved that Poison Princess begins a few days before the apocalyptic "Flash" and we get to know Evie as a popular cheerleader just going about her life in high school. Seeing her that way added depth to her character and made her whole saga more relatable. And it is the same way in this book. The Darkest Minds picks up right as the "apocalypse" is about to happen, so that we get a peek at what life was like for Ruby (and all the other characters as well) Before. It just makes it easier to empathize; makes the characters seem more real.

The only thing that fell short for me in this book was the romance aspect. It's not that I didn't like Liam (Ruby's love interest, an absolute stand-up guy)--I just felt like his character was never as sharp/complex as many of the other characters, such as Zu, Sam, and Chubs. I didn't really understand why Liam and Ruby had the hots for each other, aside from the fact that for most of the book they are the only same-aged individual of the opposite sex that the other knows (which, actually, is probably enough when you are 16, lolz). Luckily, the romance part was not the focal point of the book, and you get the feeling that plot line will be developed more in the sequel.

All in all though, this was definitely one of the best books I've read all year. Utterly original, action-packed, with complex world-building, the whole 9 yards! 4.5 stars.

*Just to be clear I am not counting The Arcana Chronicles here, because I do not really consider those books to be dystopian, even though there is definitely a post-apocalyptic, dystopian vibe to them. Both Poison Princess and Endless Night still remain my favorite reads of 2013. Just wanted to clarify!

7 comments:

  1. I loved Poison Princess. I never realized before that many dystopian novels only give us the after. I have read a fantasy book by Alexandra Bracken and I wasn't the biggest fan so I stayed away from this book so far, but after your review I may have to give it a chance.

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  2. I loved The Darkest Minds and that ending. It. Killed. Me. I actually really liked the romance part...love Liam! Never Fade is even better, I think. Glad you enjoyed it...great review! ~Pam

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