Second Look: THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest MindsThe Story: When Ruby was 9 years old, she watched her classmates slowly start to die off one by one of by a horrible disease that killed most children in America. The ones that survived, like Ruby, didn’t get off scott-free. Kids like her developed abilities, some harmless (but still impressive), and some very dangerous. When Ruby was 10, she was carted off to a “rehabilitation camp” meant to help kids like her. Unknown to parents and adults, these camps are not actually intended to “help” anyone.  After a harrowing rescue from Camp Thurmond, Ruby, now 16, meets up with a band of survivors who are trying to get to a secret camp for kids on the run called East River. Run by a mysterious young men simply called “the Slip Kid”, East River gives children and teens a safe place to hide out and try to reach their families if they so desire. When they get there, East River seems like the ideal paradise for a group of kids on the run. Unfortunately, there’s more to the camp than meets the eye, and the Slip Kid has some nefarious plans for Ruby.

The Low Down: I’m not sure how I feel about this book. Being the dystopian lover I am, I really wanted to like it. I really truly did. It wasn’t a a bad book, but I really struggled to follow it and enjoy it at the same time.

There really is no one way to sum up everything that is happening here. There are intermittent flashbacks of Ruby’s past thrown in at random points, which stretch out through the book. Some are of her time at Thurmond, and some eventually lead up to the incident that got her sent to Thurmond when she was 10. There are dozens of different settings (the rehabilitation camp, on the road in a minivan, a Walmart where they hole up for a night or so, East River, a hotel room or two, etc.), though this detail is understandable since Ruby and company are traveling across four states with a 10-year-old Rand McNally atlas. I just had a very difficult time following all the different times and places (case in point: see how long my summary is above? Do you have any idea how long it took me to shorten it to that length AND still make it sound coherent?)

I didn’t feel a lot of compassion or connection to the characters either. Ruby is a young girl who has been traumatized by the events in her young life and has a big scary power that she doesn’t know how to control. Yes, she’s scared. Who could blame her?! But I refuse to label her as a “strong heroine.” For most of it, she just came off as whiny, trying to inwardly deal with her fear and pain, and bitchily shutting out her new friends instead of actually asking for help, all under the guise of her “not wanting to hurt anyone.” Sure, Ruby. Because I’m sure they’ll appreciate it when you accidentally mind-rape them with no warning whatsoever.

My last gripe is that many of the big reveals and huge GASP! moments weren’t all that monumental and left me thinking, “oh… that’s it?! THAT is the big secret?” (there were one or two jaw-droppers, but not enough to say I was at the edge of my seat). Some of the shocking moments were just downright predictable.

One thing I can give Bracken props for is her writing style. I enjoyed the writing itself and appreciate the quality of her words and ability to write. It has a very promising plot, but I think the story could have used a little more polishing.

Extra Goodies: On The Darkest Minds website, there’s a whole bunch of goodies related to the book(s). You can get playlists, explore the world Bracken has created in the series, additional book reviews, and FAQ’s related to the series.

The Bottom Line: Alexandra Bracken is a good writer, but the story needed to be cleaned up a bit. While I don’t think the book was bad, The Darkest Minds didn’t leave me with a lasting “OH MY GOD!” impression. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll probably skip the rest of the trilogy.



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