Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Darkest Minds [Review]

Title: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Series: The Darkest Minds #1
Genre: Science-Fiction
What They Say:
When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government "rehabilitation camp." She might have survived the mysterious disease that's killed most of America's children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control. Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she's on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her-East River. She joins a group of kids who 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. 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 a life worth living.

What I Say:
Not going to lie, the sole reason I picked up this book was because I saw online that the author was a graduate of my Alma Mater, which is pretty awesome. I figured, written by a William & Mary student, it'd be full of cheeky Virginia references the way half my conversations at this school are. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. This book had evil presidents, kickass kids, and a road trip that stops through my very own hometown. That said:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Plot: wow
One day when Ruby was nine, kids at school starting dying. Dropping dead in the lunchroom before recess, or at the store with their parents, or after the first bell in her fourth grade class. A epidemic called I.A.A.N. spread across the country seemingly all at once, and killed every kid entering puberty at the time. Except, on Ruby's tenth birthday, she didn't die. Instead, she woke up with a terrifying new ability that she couldn't yet control. Which is how she ends up in a nightmarish internment camp called Thurmond, where the surviving children - all of whom gained one of four types of supernatural abilities, and are called "Psy"- are penned behind barbed-wire fences and basically treated like crap while the outside world thinks they're being "rehabilitated". Spoiler: they're not. By complete chance - or for more sinister purposes - a group of freedom fighters called the Childrens' League break her out of the camp five years later, hoping she'll join their cause. I say freedom fighters, evil President Gray says "terrorist group". With her till-now-suppressed ability, Ruby quickly realizes that the League are not what they seem, and makes a run for it...straight into the arms of gorgeous southern golden-boy Liam, whose ragtag friends are on the run, in search of a mythical haven for Psy kids run by the legendary Slip Kid (why is he called this? we never find out). To keep this summary short, the Slip Kid is the last person on earth they'd expect, and as their life of constant running and danger catches up with them, they realize that even the leader of their new-found safe haven has plans of his own.

I love dystopia novels, I cannot lie. But a dystopian story set in my state with a relatively unique premise that kind of doubles as a coming-of-age road trip story? I can't explain how glad I am to have randomly given this book a chance. As with any kids-on-the-run tale, there were parts that dragged - whole chapters where the characters met and challenges faced didn't really progress the story at all - but for every scene like that, there was a great chapter full of banter where you could feel Liam and Ruby and Chubs becoming a family. In a book where the idea of family has been dashed early on and yearned for by every character - adults and children alike - this was important. Because I have to cover all aspects of the book, I admit there was a lot of internal angst that elicited a few eye-rolls from me, mainly any time Ruby referred to herself as "a dangerous monster!" because of her abilities. The horrible shock at the end of this book was perfect, because when it happens, you (the reader) are so deep into Ruby's head that you're horrified but also forced to agree with how clever it is. Picked up the sequel yesterday and I'm already hooked.

Characters: wow
I can dig Ruby Daly. Considering she's sixteen and only has a fourth-grade education, she's done pretty well for herself (almost too well, at points when her vocabulary and reasoning skills are blatantly advanced). She's thrust into these unbelievable situations, and she acts on instinct. She doesn't crumble or sit around asking questions, she just tackles the issue and moves on to the next. To be fair, this does a number on her psyche, which I mentioned earlier in the part about her inner angst. I wanted to sit her down so many times and just say, You did a bad thing when you were ten. Okay! No one thinks you're a monster! But I guess she's internalized all the nastiness they taught her in Thurmond, which I can't fault her for.

I can't help but like Liam. He's painted as this all-around great, charismatic guy, which he is. He inspires people to follow him and trust him, and he has good intentions, so most characters in his position would get cocky and blinded to the possible consequences. But Liam has already seen what overconfidence and charisma can lead to; he's made it happen himself and he's got blood on his hands. He may not live in angst like Ruby does, but he uses his own personal failures to see them in other people, which saves them from deceitful people a few times. Especially in this dystopian future filled with sociopaths and desperate people. And, of course, I love the southern snark.

Relationships: wow
Ruby and Liam - These two come together so naturally, I don't think anyone could argue their relationship is too rushed or too slow. It's based largely in survival and protection - but it's a two-way street, unlike in some other YA relationships. They've both been through hell, and weirdly, it's made them kinder and warmer people. The snark and banter is excellent and even charmed me a bit. That said, these two are going to have one hell of a hard time surviving together until the end of the series.

Special Features: wow
So let's talk about I.A.A.N. It's the epidemic that starts it all - a mysterious disease that, by the time our story really gets started - has killed essentially 99% of the country's children and blessed (cursed?) the survivors with special abilities and the widespread hatred of the American people. In addition to dystopian stories, I'm very interested in stories about epidemics and the like. Movies like Contagion fascinate me. This books gives you many chances to consider the world that Alexandra Bracken had created, which to be fair is not very hopeful for the future. There are no kids, all the schools have been closed or bombed by extremist groups, the economy has tanked and most people are homeless. Every adult is angry and desperate in some way. Every kid is afraid and desperate in some way. I wondered throughout this novel: even if, at the end of the series, Ruby somehow saves the day and defeats whoever it is she needs to defeat (it's not yet entirely clear), well - then what? Things look very bleak and there are many unanswered questions so far, which makes for an extremely interesting series!

Parting Quote:
  “But hey, what's life without a little adversity?"
   That had to have been the fakest attempt at optimism since my fourth grade teacher tried reasoning that we were better off without the dead kids in our class because it'd mean more turns on the playground swings for the rest of us.
The future is so crappy! But sometimes darkly hilarious!