Series: The Darkest Minds #1-3
Publication Dates: December 8, 2012 / October 15, 2013 / October 28, 2014
Source/Format: Owned || Kindle, hardcover; Borrowed from Rachel || ARC
Imagine, if you will, a world where children develop a mutation that allows them to tap into unseen parts of their brains and do extraordinary things. But these children, instead of being celebrated for what they can do, are quarantined in camps and facilities. They are treated poorly, inhumanely, by those scared of what they can unleash and those high on the power they have been granted. Imagine, then, that there comes a day when it all becomes too much to take. Imagine that one girl is given the opportunity to be free, to fight for her rights, for her friends, for these children. This is the story of Ruby Elizabeth Daly. This is the story of her friends, her allies, her enemies. This is the tale of how one girl lit a spark, and set the world on fire to create it anew.
It all sounds a bit dramatic, I know. But the way that The Darkest Minds is told just demands such an extreme response. There's a level of mastery in the way that it is written that I haven't encountered very often in my reads, with Bracken striking just the right balance between exposition and revelation. We don't know everything about this world or these characters right off the bat. But Bracken carefully peels away at all the layers, until we learn what the bottom line is, what the truth is. It's one heck of a journey, and the initial uncertainty and lack of knowledge makes the reading experience all the more intense. This story is woven well, inviting readers to get to know these characters in their fullness, past, present and future, admirable traits or inevitable flaws. It slowly maps out a variety of relationships, all of which fall somewhere on the spectrum between necessity and desire. It exposes a world of utter strangeness permeated with familiarity and just on the line between what's real and what's not. The care and caution that went into the construction of this story, of this series really, is undeniable, and I truly admire the writing ability Bracken has displayed.
The true strength of The Darkest Minds lies in two things: characters and themes. Yes, the world-building is excellent, particularly because there is an obvious attention to detail. Yes, the plot is well-planned, with surprising twists meant to catch readers off guard and further ensure their investment in the book. However, without the overarching themes, without these characters, I wouldn't be able to lavish the same amount of praise on this series.
I love being entertained by my reads, but I also love being challenged by them. The Darkest Minds might be fiction, but it does bring some really interesting questions to the forefront of a reader's mind. What is right and what is wrong? Is there any situation where the end will justify the means? Why is it that we automatically assume that different is dangerous or different is bad? Is there more than one type of family? How far are you willing to go in the name of freedom? In the name of control? What will it take to make people understand? How much needs to happen before people take notice of injustice that is happening right in front of their faces? Why do people turn out differently in spite of having similar personalities and gifts? I have no clue whether or not Bracken intentionally wove themes of prejudice, relationships, injustice and more into her stories, but either way, it was really well done. It was really interesting to find myself thinking about these things, and trying to discern my own answers. I felt really challenged and empowered, and I love that these books inspired me to go that route.
Admittedly, the themes are point in favor of this series. But I don't think I would have felt them so keenly or examined them so well if I didn't care so deeply for these characters. Ruby. Liam. Chubs. Zu. The original Black Betty gang, and the group of kids that immediately stole my heart. Each one of them has experienced horrible things, has done horrible things, but each one manages to stay strong. True. Loyal. Vulnerable. Even if it doesn't seem like it, they always have the best intentions when it comes to their choices. They care deeply for one another, always acting in each other's best interests. More than friendships, more than allies, more even than the romance (which was pretty damn swoon-worthy and wrecked me multiple times), they were family. As the events in this series unfold, more characters join the fold - Jude, Nico and Vida, Cate and Cole. It took some time to really warm up to anyone outside the original four, but after reading all the novels, I can't imagine this story without all the rest in its pages. These characters felt real, as they flew up out of the pages and into my heart. And I know that they are the kind that will stick around for the long run in my mind and in my heart.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: The Darkest Minds is insanely amazing. It has all the elements I want in my stories: strong and flawed characters with complex relationships, detailed world-building, and an intricate plot. Every character, every moment pops to life off the page effortlessly, and it didn't take all that long before I was emotionally invested in the outcome. If you're looking for a new young adult series to binge read, if you want to be emotionally invested in characters whose lives and choices will wreck you on occasion, if you want to be transported into a terrifying, vivid new world, your search ends here. Pick up your own copy of The Darkest Minds (and you might want to make sure you have the other two on hand), and simply let the story take you away.
Through the Dark by Alexandra Bracken
Series: The Darkest Minds #1.5, 2.5 + 3.5
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the content of my review.]
It might not be necessary to read these novellas in order to enjoy the series. But I can easily tell you that reading Through the Dark enhances the experience of Bracken's world, giving readers a chance to see what's going on in places other than wherever Ruby happens to be. I was fascinated by the glimpses of the country and camps that these novellas provided, terrible and horrible and scary and occasionally good. But I was even more thrilled to get to know two characters more intimately - Zu, the youngest member of the Black Betty gang who is selectively mute, and Sam, a Green kid that Ruby was incarcerated with at Thurmond. Both these periods in their lives are handled delicately, as their circumstances are certainly never ideal. Bracken succeeds at getting creative with her stories, even as she keeps things consistent with what is happening on Ruby's end in the novels. I read it in the recommended order (The Darkest Minds, In Time, Never Fade, Sparks Rise, In the Afterlight and Beyond the Night), and they fit together seamlessly. Fans should certainly read this bind-up, as these novellas are perfectly written to accompany the series.