When Ruby is ten, all the kids around her start dying of a mysterious illness. The government responds by rounding up the surviving kids and putting them in “rehabilitation” camps. Fast forward six years and Ruby is still trapped in Thurmond, which she’s realized is a concentration camp for children and teens who have developed powers after the outbreak. She has survived so far by getting herself labeled as having a low-level ability, but when the camp discovers she actually possesses a more dangerous ability, she needs to run.
Upon escaping Thurmond Ruby meets other teens with abilities who are on the run toward East River, a supposed safe haven for people like them. With bounty hunters called Skip Tracers on their tail, they make a break for safety. All the while, Ruby hides her true power from these other kids because she doesn’t know how to control it, or if it can be controlled at all.
This book has been on my TBR list since February, and I finally got around to reading it. I don’t know why I waited so long! I couldn’t put it down and wound up reading it in one day. There’s a bit of world-building at the beginning (while I wouldn’t really classify this book as dystopian/post-apocalyptic, the US as we know it has changed) with the illness and the camp that slows the story down a tiny bit, but it’s necessary to the plot. Once Ruby is on the run, however, the story immediately picks up, and I was hooked from there until the last page. In a strange way, THE DARKEST MINDS is a road trip book. Ruby and her new friends (Liam, Chubs and Zu) cruise through West Virginia and Virginia in a huge beat-up van christened Black Betty, dodging the skip tracers who want to bring them back to the camps they escaped from.
My favorite parts of the book were anytime these four kids were together (which, thankfully, was the majority of the book). Each character has a distinct personality: Liam is the leader with endless stores of positivity and telekinesis; Chubs is suspicious, a little grouchy, and loves to read; and Zu does not speak a word in the entire book but her personality is as powerful as the electricity that comes out of her hands. The scene where Ruby meets them is intense and hilarious at the same time.
For me, Liam is one of the best parts of this story. It’s nice to see a genuinely nice guy in a book, one who’s not overly mysterious and brooding (though Liam does have his baggage). He’s possibly my favorite male YA character I’ve read so far this year (and that’s saying a lot, considering I was introduced to Captain Carswell Thorne of the Lunar Chronicles this year, too!). I enjoyed Ruby’s character a lot too, and I thought she had some great character development. In the beginning, she was extremely helpless, unable to stand up to a guard who unfairly punished her, but by the end of this book she was facing down some pretty serious bad guys and defending her friends. You go girl!
If you’re normally off-put by supernatural-type abilities, I would still recommend giving this book a try. The characters are so well written and the world is similar enough to ours that it doesn’t feel alienating. For me, this book is everything I wanted SHATTER ME to be and more. SO MUCH MORE! I can’t wait to start NEVER FADE and for IN THE AFTERLIGHT to come out this fall. There’s also a novella, IN TIME, that comes between the first and second books which I highly recommend. I am turning into a huge Alexandra Bracken fan. She knows how to write a story that will keep me flipping pages! Plus, the three book titles make a sentence: The darkest minds never fade in the afterlight. How clever is she?
Have you read THE DARKEST MINDS? Are you in love with this series (and Liam)? No spoilers about NEVER FADE, please, but I’d love to hear your thoughts!