Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Series: #1 in the The Darkest Minds series
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 496
Received: ARC from Ruby!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From me, because the book blurb tells you the entire story:

Horrible disease of unknown everything spreads and kills kids when they reach, surprise surprise, puberty! Those who managed to survive end up developing superpowers. YAY! But they're rounded up and sent to concentration camps where they're sorted into color groups based on the nature of their powers. Less yay.

Ruby, our wishy-washy heroine, is really a majorly dangerous Orange (mind control!) but she has a rare moment of decisive intelligence and uses her power to make her captors think she's a benign Green (codebreaker extraordinaire). When they start to catch on to her deception, she manages to escape with the help of a shady group of rebels!

Soon after, she meets up with a stereotypical but lovable group of motley runaways, including The Smart One, The Cute Shy Kid, and The Hot One. Thus begins a periodically slow but also occasionally rollicking quest to find the Slip Kid, the rumored leader of a superpower utopia who can help them find their families.


Why isn't this the sequel to Brightly Woven?

Ok, I'll admit, right off the bat I was disappointed with The Darkest Minds. And this is totally unfair of me, because I hadn't even possessed a copy of the book yet, let alone read a single word in it.

It's just, I loved Brightly Woven, Alexandra Bracken's first book, so darn much and I've had a hard time accepting the fact that she wrote another book and it 1) isn't a sequel and 2) isn't even a high fantasy.

It's a dystopia, and we all know I have a rocky relationship with that genre.

But, it's Alexandra Bracken! So I was cautious, but my hopes were still pretty darn high. 

So, what kind of dystopia is this anyway?

Not the great kind. But not the bad kind either. It's kind of a middling dystopia with an interesting premise that miraculously focuses neither on romance nor that excruciating, slow, and totally stupid "slow awakening" that takes hundreds of pages to basically say, "duh, this world sucks." So, yay!

Ruby knows from the get-go that her world is messed up (hey, she grew up in a concentration camp). This journey is faster paced than most Book 1 dystopias since Ruby spends the majority of it running away from various bad people out to either harm her or use her for her powers.

The only downside is, despite her awesome superpower, she doesn't actually do a whole lot of fighting back. And the few times she does? It's straight to the fetal position of shock and shame for our hero. So don't expect Buffy.

The good

Alexandra Bracken's world is also sort of a dystopia/post-apocalyptic cross, which upped its awesome points because I love post-apoc stories.

There's a government that sends its children to concentration camps and kills A TON of people because they're super duper evil like that. And, really, let me stress A TON. Dead. This evil government is actually hardcore evil with a body count to match the dystopia genre tag. Bracken's not playing around here.

On top of that, most of the population was convinced that this move was the right thing to do, and the fact that they felt this way actually made sense (unlike some YA dystopias). At this point I was so happy to have a dystopia grounded in plausible reality that I was almost ready to forgive Alexandra Bracken for not spending her every writing moment penning me more Wayland North scenes. Almost.

Even better, most of the book follows main character Ruby (concentration camp escapee) and her rag-tag group of similarly superpowered youths as they travel across the country trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic land while being pursued by multiple groups of baddies all out to get them.

Did you get all that? Here, let me break down the awesome for you:

1) Kids with superpowers! Have I mentioned how much I love this plot point? The superpowers in The Darkest Minds were a little more joy-suck ala Rogue-can't-touch-people-without-killing-them and a little less wish-fulfillment than I'd like, but superpowers are still superpowers and you can never go too wrong by adding them to any plot.

2) Road trip! Another plot point that automatically elevates a storyline. There's even a sort of quest to find a mythical utopia for superpowered kids that can only be located by first finding and then cracking a code, which is pretty much another sentence packed with win right there.

Though I could have done with a cooler road trip vehicle than a minivan. For crying out loud.

Seriously YA authors, what gives? First we get Edward's decidedly uncool "Safety First" Volvo, and now this?! Have you not seen The Omega Man? Mad Max? If I ever find myself cruising around in a post-apocalyptic land, you'd better believe I'll be driving in V8-muscle style.

3) Pursuit. Always gets the heart racing.

4) Multiple groups of baddies. It would have been fine if Alexandra Bracken had created a bad government and left it at that. But multiple groups? That makes A LOT more sense. This world is fractured, so it's totally logical that there would be more than one group with an agenda running around. It could have been SO easy for Alexandra Bracken to have divided her lines across stark good and bad, government versus anti-government and called it a day.

But she didn't, and I love her for it. The development of different groups with their sometimes aligned and sometimes at odds agendas make perfect sense and kept both Ruby and myself on our toes. Who can we trust? Anyone? No one? I'm still not sure where to put my loyalties, if anywhere, but I know I want to find out more about all of them.

And one final good

Chubs. Ah, I love this guy. He's part of Ruby's group of runaways and while he spends a good part of the book annoyed with her, he's a total genius and a softie and I love him.

Fortunately, he's not Ruby's love interest. I know, totally weird thing for me to say, right? But it's true.

He's a great guy and he has great chemistry with Ruby whether they're fighting or friendly, but it's purely on a friend level. And that's where I want it to stay. It's like Anne and Diana or Kirk and Spock (and while some fan fictions might go there, that's just wrong). Their friendships are perfection and I love that an author actually focused on developing a meaningful friendship instead of romance.

But that cliffhanger of an ending? All I'm going to say is that IT BETTER GO MY WAY. 

*cough* and the bad

You knew this wasn't going to be all yays and points. There is a whole star and a half missing here, and unfortunately I have more than a few reasons why.

First off, I read an ARC, and oh lord do I hope the finished version has had a lot more work done to it. Plot holes! Incoherent superpowers! Wandering plot! Shoddy world-building!

A lot of The Darkest Minds was just a hot mess. It felt like a rush-job that was put out there before it was ready. I feel like it makes so much more sense in the author's mind and it's really totally developed and even intricate...but only about 70% made it to paper. I want to read the 100% version, because that would be awesome.

Add to that the flat characters, survival stupidity, and pity party main character, I'm sometimes surprised by how much I actually did like this book.

The ideas were good, and I think I ran with that, even while part of me was sitting there thinking, "wait, what? NO, this is only half-baked!"

And Ruby. Boy, did I want to like her. Sadly, she commits two of my biggest MC pet-peeves. First, she spends the entire (long) book moping in timid indecision, internally whining over how everyone will hate her if they find out the truth about her. Honey, *I* was starting to hate you, and it had nothing to do with your superpower. 

Which leads me to grievous MC sin number two: Superpower squandering. Ruby would rather take the LALAALALA-I'M-NOT-LISTENING approach to her powers instead of actually, you know, using them. I don't read a book about people with superpowers so I can listen to them cry about how woe-is-me they are for having them and ignore their power because it is oh so scary.


Now, fine, Alexandra Bracken at least gives Ruby a pretty legit reason to be afraid of her powers and it did totally tug at my heartstrings and even make me tear up a little, but I really don't care. Superpower squandering is unforgivable.

Ok, let's get down to what's important here


While I'm not sure if this is entirely fair on my part, I have to admit I was disappointed. To be frank, I was gunning for Wayland North Does Post-Apocalyptic Dystopia, and I know that's slightly unrealistic.

I mean, wouldn't it be a source of complaint if Alexandra Bracken basically took the same Brightly Woven characters, gave them modern clothes, and called it a day? Wouldn't that be considered lazy? Uncreative? Yeah, probably. But that's what I wanted. Because I'm still pining for Wayland North.

And Liam? He's no Wayland North.

Liam is nice. In real life, I'd probably love him. He makes a good mental picture, has a hot Southern accent, and he's a total gentleman.

He's also super boring. Where was the swagger? The charm? The, I don't know, personality? Basically, I wanted Han Solo and instead I got Luke Skywalker (though hotter, there's that).

And the other guy? (Yeah, we take an annoying detour down that path). All I can say is UGH BARF NO. From the very beginning.

I don't know if I like being emotionally manipulated like that

There were a few gut-punches thrown in there and I'm still not sure how I feel about them. On one hand, they totally worked. I was crying and mentally screaming, "NO NO NO THAT CAN'T HAPPEN STOP NOW!!" which is a definite mark in the win column.

But, eeeeh, did we need to resort to emotional manipulations? Or, maybe I would have liked them more if the rest of the book felt as raw and spectacular as those scenes. As it was, it felt like I was snoozing through a fog of emotional detachment because, while they were nice enough, I really couldn't have cared less about the characters (Chubs excepted).

And then, BAM suddenly I did!

Or did I? Did I care about them, or was their plight just so emotionally transcendent that I'd have to be darn near inhuman not to feel for them (whoever the heck they are)? I think it's the latter. The events made me think how heartbroken I would feel if *I* were the one going through them, or even just how devastating they were conceptually. But they didn't make me feel for Ruby.

So even while I was reeling from all the emotions and loving the fact that Alexandra Bracken went there and that was awesome and amazing and took The Darkest Minds to that great IMPACT level most YA dystopias lack, it still feels kinda like a cheap shot.

Bottom line

The Darkest Minds is not the book I was hoping it would be. Part of that is my own fault for wanting to make it into something it wasn't (and stubbornly refusing to accept it for what it was).

But even accounting for that, this one seems like it needed to spend more time in development. A little more editing, (A LOT) more coherent world-building, and a MC who isn't so wishy-washy would have gone a long way to making The Darkest Minds one of the rare really good YA dystopias.

But, whatever. It falls short. That's ok. It's still an absorbing read that will likely appeal strongly to dystopia fans. Definitely something I'll be ordering for my library teens (probably too hardcore for tweens...unless they're already reading The Hunger Games), even if it isn't something I'll keep in my own personal library (so, trade?).

Will I read the sequel? Maybe, maybe not. I still haven't decided.  

Also, cliffhanger warning. Total cliffhanger. 

On an unrelated note, I wish they had kept the original title Black is the Color. It's so fresh and original and striking. The Darkest Minds is so bland, been-there-done-that, and lame. Plus, it never fails to make me think of Michelle Pfeiffer bringing the joy of education to dangerous, misunderstood youths. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Darkest Minds that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.


  1. Thanks for the awesomely in-depth review, Small! Love that you lay out all the pros and cons, it gives me a really good idea of what I might like/dislike about this book. I think a lot of the things that irritated you would also irritate me (like the lack of editing...*shudders*) but it definitely sounds like conceptually the series has promise. I might check this one out of the library at some point, but it won't be topping my TBR list.

    1. Thank you! It's not so much a lack of editing in the sense that it's painful to read or that the sentences are poorly written. More just that it could have been a lot tighter and with more cohesive world-building. Conceptually the series has a LOT of promise! I would definitely recommend checking it out of the library.

  2. Sounds like you really liked it anyway, so that's good.
    Too bad it wasn't all you expected it to be.

    1. I did! It was one of those books where even though I recognize a lot of things that bugged me, overall my experience was a positive one. It was very readable.

  3. This looks really good, although your review made me want to read Brightly Woven more than The Darkest Minds! haha I'll probably read both now, even if there is a bit of a love triangle in TDM. The kids with superpowers aspect will hopefully outweigh that!

    1. lol! Well, good, I'm always happy to get someone to read Brightly Woven! :P The love triangle isn't the worst I've read, and it doesn't take up much of the book.

  4. Hmmm...I think I might like Liam a lot. First that's a name I really like but also he sounds like a nice guy. I don't remember loving Wayland North so that comparison won't bother me. Can't wait to get this from the library!

    1. Yes! I think you will love Liam. He's definitely your type. He really is a great guy. I just wish he had been developed a little more. It would be awesome if the sequel flipped from his perspective and Ruby's so we can get to know him more.

  5. Small! I've been so dang busy lately, but I have been reading your always-amazing reviews. I can still recall your review and feelings for Brightly Woven - a book I STILL need to read - so it doesn't surprise me too much that you thought this one couldn't possibly live up to that one. I've been kind of burnt out on dystopians lately (something I never thought would happen), but throw in superpowers and I'm good to go! Seriously though, despite your criticisms - and they are very fair ones - this actually sounds pretty good to me and I think I'd probably like it. I'll see if I can make time for it...

    Anyways, just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and a safe and relaxing holiday, Small! I hope you get to read some fantastic book over the break! Talk to you again in 2013.

  6. I have Brightly Woven on my shelf, and even though I haven't read it yet, I was disappointed that her 2nd book wasn't a sequel! Still, I might be reading it sometime in the future.

    Great review!

  7. I was disappointed when my request for this on NG was denied, but after reading your review I don't feel that bad. This book has a lot of potential and promise, but those cons have me rethinking about picking it up. I think I'll wait and see if I can get it from my library but I'm not in a hurry to get it. Great review!

  8. Small, Small, Small! I'm bloated on college life and can finally lay back and relax with my laptop which means more commenting! I've still been reading your reviews and when I came across your review for this one I was dancing for joy!

    Oh, I was so hoping for a lot more love. You and me, we're Brightly Woven girls. And I can totes accept the lack of a sequel (A LITTLE) but I'm a little scared of the wishy-washy and the lack of editing. So now I'm feeling a bit more wary than I wanted. ACK. I don't know what to think *runs in circles* Your criticisms are making me twitchy. I'm giving sidelong glances to my ARC now. *crosses fingers*

    I also wanted to wish you happy holidays! <3

  9. "Honey, *I* was starting to hate you, and it had nothing to do with your superpower."

    ...And you thought of me in the character of Ruby?

    I'm totally with you on Liam. He was a nice guy, but fictional-romantically speaking...he needed swagger. Awesome way to put it!

  10. hey, okay so i got never fade today (number two) but when i started reading, i realized i couldn't remember who robb, cate and vina were. do you remember and what did they do? thanks!!! xxx


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