THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken

It’s been a while since a book has affected my emotions as much as The Darkest Minds did. Sure other books have made me feel joy and happiness and sadness, but nothing in recent months can compare to the anguish I felt when I finished the final page of Alexandra Bracken’s dystopian novel. At 496 pages, it’s a formidable length for a young adult novel. And, I’ll be honest, at times I became somewhat restless. Don’t let that deter you–The Darkest Minds is a stunning entrance into the YA dystopian market and provides a fresh take on a bleak and terrifying future.

There’s something wrong with America’s children. Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN) disease is affecting kids from the age of 10 and, with wide-ranging symptoms and no apparent cause or cure, families are in a state of panic. For 9 year-old Ruby, her tenth birthday is no longer surrounded by joyous anticipation–kids in her class are either dying or being shipped away to rehabilitation camps with frightening intensity. When the fateful day finally arrives, Ruby realises too late that she is not immune. She has changed. Unaware of the changes happening inside her, Ruby scares her parents so much that she is sent away to Thurmond to be ‘rehabilitated’ with thousands of other children. Ruby may have survived, but her life as she knew it is over. She awoke on her tenth birthday with mysterious abilities–dangerous abilities–without knowing how to control them. For six years, Ruby manages to keep her head above water at Thurmond. But things are changing. The special forces who patrol the camp know it, the mysterious outside agency called The League know it, and Ruby soon finds herself on the run.

Ruby befriends a small group of similar misfits–Psi generation kids with powers beyond their control. Together, they begin a dangerous search for the East River, where it is rumoured an entire camp of kids live free from control under the dutiful care of the mysterious Slip Kid. Ruby, Chubs, Zu and their leader Liam form a close bond, but Ruby always has her guard up. She can’t afford to make the same mistake she made with her parents all those years ago. When someone offers to help Ruby understand her power, she jumps on the opportunity to learn to control her sought-after ability. But is this the silver lining she had hoped it to be? Or will the true motivations of her apparent saviour reveal an even darker and more sinister villain than Ruby and her friends could ever imagine? I suggest you read and find out.

I think what I loved most about The Darkest Minds is that while the novel clearly fits into the YA genre, it doesn’t much feel YA at all. The subject matter is, at times, truly disturbing and abhorrent, and deals with the darkest caveats of the human brain. One particular scene recounts the merciless slaughter of hundreds of children, and Bracken’s skill as an author makes this a truly harrowing reading experience. But don’t let that put you off. Ruby is a flawed but ultimately likeable character that you can’t help cheer on as the book reaches the final climax. And the host of supporting characters makes the entire journey all the more worthwhile. There are a couple of points throughout the novel that feel overly long or unnecessarily drawn out, but ultimately serve a purpose when the broader picture of Bracken’s world is considered. The writing is as witty at times as it is downright depressing at others, as the future that is painted is bleak and horrifying. But the characters all latch on to a beautiful thing–hope. And as a reader, you can’t help but hope they find it.

The Darkest Minds is up there with my favourite books of the year. It is deep and thrilling enough to satisfy non-YA fans and provides young adults with an engrossing tale. It will suit fans of dystopian fiction (obvs), but also those who like their future fantasies darker than most. I am eagerly awaiting the second instalment in this series. If you read it, I’m sure you’ll figure out why.

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