When Ruby wakes up on her tenth birthday, something about her has 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. Not after what happened to her parents.
When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But 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.
First off, let me get this out of the way: Do NOT go into this book thinking it’s a standalone! It is the first in a trilogy, and the ending of this book is enough to make you keel over in pain. I’m not sorry I read it, but it’s going to be a very long wait for book number two, which is scheduled for release in late 2013. Not only that, but this book will leave you with plenty to think about in the meantime; it’s definitely one that reaches out and grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go even once you’ve finished.
As someone who works with kids every single day, this book physically hurt me in a way that nothing I’ve read (except for The Book Thief) ever has. The world-building in this story is truly phenomenal, and so gut-wrenchingly real that it’s one of the main things I’m still thinking about days after reading the final words. Imagine, if you will, that almost all of the kids between the ages of 8 and 14 have been affected by a disease which has no cure: you either die from it, or you develop abilities which are so strange and terrifying that it forces the government to lock you away in “rehabilitation” camps to keep everyone else safe from these new things you can now do. At the camps, you’re color-coded depending on what ability you have. These abilities range from something completely unthreatening (you can now break codes and have a photographic memory) to the horrifying (mind control over others, or the ability to light things on fire with a simple touch). The camps have the distinct feel of a concentration camp, and Bracken didn’t exactly mince words when she described what Ruby and the other kids are forced to endure. Even when Ruby escapes, she spends almost every single moment in fear of being caught and sent back to the camp, and that fear is ever-present and almost tangible in not only her, but the other kids she meets. This is not a fairy dust and rainbows kind of world in any form or fashion, not only for these kids, but for everyone else in the US as well.
Ruby is a very compelling main character, one who hates herself for something that’s completely and utterly beyond her control, and who is forced to make decisions that no sixteen-year-old should have to make. She cries a lot, and she makes bad choices, and she continually has this sense of hatred about herself that causes her to believe she doesn’t deserve anything, least of all Liam. But by the end of the book, Ruby has really sort of found herself, and while I don’t agree with her decisions all of the time, I can’t deny that she’s a much stronger character than she was at the start; Ruby does a lot of growing up, and it’s all there in the pages for us to read and root her on.
But it’s not just the world – or Ruby – that sticks with you. It’s Liam, who is probably the first honest-to-goodness NICE guy I’ve seen in YA literature in a long time, one who has flaws, carries around an enormous amount of guilt, and who loves Ruby so much that it makes your heart hurt a bit. It’s Su, who you can’t help but root for, because she’s having some of the same issues as Ruby but in some ways had it even worse. And there’s Chubs, who takes a while for you to warm up to but turns out to be someone that you can’t help but love all the more for it. And it’s the ending, which takes your heart and crushes it to little tiny pieces, and makes you wonder how things can possibly turn out right and give everyone what they so very much deserve.
The Darkest Minds is an absolutely gripping read that’s impossible to put down. It grabs hold of you and wrenches you around, making you root for the characters you can’t help but love and wish the bad guys would get their comeuppance. There are twists and turns to the story, to the point where you’re constantly guessing about what will happen next, and it’s all set in a world that is truly terrifying. If you’re looking for a well-developed dystopian world, with wonderfully-developed characters and a “can’t stop reading” feeling, look no further than this book. The Darkest Minds will be released on December 18, 2012 in North America.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.