Author: Alexandra Bracken
Series/Stand Alone: First in a series
Why I read this book: I had heard a lot of people say really great things about it and when I saw it at the bookstore I decided to pick it up!
The Darkest Minds is one of the most well written books I have read in the past couple of months. The writing style was a mix of both narration and internal monologue which kept the perspective interesting throughout the novel. The novel gives off a slight X-men mutant vibe when you are thrown into the midst of a world battling with children who are well, mutants. It also parallels X-men in the fact that the mutants are outcasted and the government wishes to do away with all of them.
One thing I have to complain about is that the protagonist, Ruby, didn’t stand out from any other YA novel’s hero’s in the fact that she was an insecure, self sabotaging teenage girl who had no sense of self worth or confidence. That type of character is very archetypal in young adult fiction and I was disappointed to see so much of that throughout the book. One other minor thing that I found odd, now of course this is personal preference but, was their clothing choices. For some reason I couldn’t picture Liam wearing a baseball cap or Clancy with a popped collar (I’m sorry but if you describe any character as having a popped collar and want them to be found as attractive, you’re going down the wrong path, very fast.) also, I didn’t find it realistic that Ruby would switch immediately into a dress after 6 years of uniform and growing up wishing to be a boy, just because a 10 year old girl wants you to. I just didn’t find it hard to believe she would possible compromise her safety because of the restrictions a dress has on you to please a girl she’s just met. However, those are the two small things that I have to complain about because over all this was a stand out book for me. The supporting character of Liam, Zu, Chubs, and Clancy really brought a richer experience into the pages of the book for the reader. What was so interesting about this as well was the fact that Zu, was mute. The entire book she didn’t say one word and yet you had the most vivid picture of her personality, goals, and aspirations after only being introduced to her for a few chapters. I think that creating a character without vocalizing them in any way shape or form and still allowing the reader to make a personal connection with them is a very hard task to complete (well) and Bracken did an amazing job with that. Also, with the writing of the character Chubs, Bracken began with another archetype of the typical nerd, cranky outcast (the equivalent of a modern day Piggy from Lord of the Flies) but soon spun an interesting take on it. She so blatantly stated how archetypal Chub’s character was to the point where Chubs even said he was Piggy from Lord of the Flies that it made him no longer archetypal. After doing that it allowed him to spin off and grow into his own unique character that was no longer being compared to previous literary characters. Chubs became his own entity of wit, rational, sympathy, and sacrifice that by the end of the book I couldn’t think of another character like him.
Now in an unfortunate many YA books, they bring in a new story line or idea, and then leave it hanging to be forgotten about until the end of the book when the randomly bring it up again and you have to flip back to the first couple of chapters to remember what the heck they’re talking about. The Darkest Minds was a thankful exception. When Bracken brought into play a whole new possibility or impending decision that needed to be made, she continually kept referring back to it so the reader would have it fresh in their brains when she decided to pull it out of her box of goodies and use it. For example, the tracker device given to Ruby at the beginning of the book by the Children’s League was mentioned at various times throughout the book until she decided to use it, and when she finally made that decision you as the reader remember the exact point Ruby was given it and what it’s purpose was for.
In this novel I found it startling and actually relieving how much Bracken pushed the limits, of both her characters and her readers emotional well being. She created so many poignant and emotional scenarios within the novel that it was impossible to ignore the characters feelings and NOT empathize with them. Commonly in YA literature I find that scenes of emotional weight aren’t described or drawn in out in so much detail that you really take what’s going on seriously. Bracken’s illustrates scenes with long term emotional affects and conjures up things you would never think an author would have the guts to do. It’s not so much as the scenes that were written but the extent that they were taken that made the larger impact on me as the reader. For example: when Chubs yelled at Liam when he was upset, he found every single weak point in his armor and seemed to shoot a haze of bullets into each one with the awful things he said to him. Now in this particular scene Bracken pushed so hard into Liam you as the reader could barely believe the words he was saying, and that disbelief is what made it all the more believable. Bracken’s made some very hard decisions throughout the coarse (particularly the ending) of her novel that I don’t know if I would have the guts to do. Overall this novel went above and beyond my standards for a YA novel and I can’t wait to read more of the series.