The early 2010s was an era where if you walked into a book shop and headed over to the teen section you were guaranteed to find one of two things: paranormal romance stories, and dystopian fiction. Both were big business thanks to the headliners of each genre, Twilight, and The Hunger Games respectively, and there were a lot of imitators trying to become the next big thing, and to make their series a must have. The Darkest Minds is a sci-fi dystopia book that might not have done as well as The Hunger Games, but certainly did well for itself.
The story deals with a not too distant future where the world has been ravaged by a new disease, Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN), which kills 90% of children and teens. Those that survive the disease awaken with new powers and abilities. When Ruby wakes up on her tenth birthday with her own abilities to read minds, her parents lock her away in their garage whilst they wait for the authorities to arrive, fearing their own daughter. Ruby is quickly arrested, and is taken to one of the specialist prison camps scattered around the US designed to contain and control the surviving children.
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Six years pass, with Ruby a prisoner in the Thurmond facility along with other powered kids. Tired of living as a prisoner of the government, Ruby escapes and sets out to find somewhere safe for kids like her. Along the way she meets a group of powered children who escaped from another facility. Together the group heads towards a camp they believe will bring them safety – but nothing is as it first appears.
On the surface, The Darkest Minds will probably remind a lot of people of the X-Men franchise. Once kids reach a certain age they go through a physical change that grants them super powers, ranging through electrical manipulation, telepathy, telekinesis, and control of fire to name a few. And much like the X-Men, those in power fear the newly changed people. They’re put into camps; they’re experimented on; they’re controlled.
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And for the first portion of the book Alexandra Bracken creates a believably grim world. The descriptions of the plague, the effect that it has on people, the conditions in the ‘re-education’ camps are frighteningly plausible. We’ve seen enough through our own history, and the current day, to know that this kind of thing can happen. The US keeps migrant children in cages, and they’d absolutely do it to their own kids if they suddenly believed that they were a threat and could other them to the public.
Unfortunately, once Ruby escapes the facility and hits the road The Darkest Minds does little to make itself stand apart from other books in this genre. The novel essentially becomes a long road trip, with much of the action, much of the drama, and much of the character interactions coming in a car on the road. There are occasional car chases to help break up the monotony, but these do little to improve the overall quality. There’s a romance subplot thrown in, where Ruby finds herself attracted to the leader of the group she meets up with, but it mostly feels like it’s been included because it’s expected that these books have some teen romance in them. It adds little to the plot.
Despite this, The Darkest Minds proved to be a successful novel, and not only did it sell well to its target audience, but the book would go on to spawn a series of sequels, with the main series getting three follow-ups, as well as a couple of short story compilations. There was also a film adaptation in 2018, around the time the final book in the series was released. The film, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, failed to do well with critics, earning mostly negative reviews, and didn’t earn a huge amount at the box office, resulting in the rest of the series not being adapted.
If you’re a big fan of sci-fi dystopia books with teen protagonists and haven’t read The Darkest Minds yet, it’s one that you should give a go, as it does have a dedicated fan base. But if you’re not too sure on the genre there are probably some stronger examples out there to try first.
The Darkest Minds was released on 18th December 2012.