Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Darkest Minds

[DISCLAIMER: I read this book before the school shooting in Connecticut and wrote some of this before that, as well. I do not mean for this review to reflect an opinion on the shootings or have anything to do with them, but some might find it in poor taste. For sure, the timing is bad. Please do not take my words the wrong way, and please do not read further if you have been personally affected by this tragedy.]

Just in time for Christmas, you can pick up one of the best books I've read this fall. It really pulled me in with its high-stakes danger and underlying theme about being afraid of one's own power. The Darkest Minds, by Alexandra Bracken, is the first novel in a new series for young adults. As the title suggests, there's a large element of darkness to this book. It's similar to the darkness of The Hunger Games, though instead of kids killing kids, it's adults torturing and killing kids, which might be worse in some ways.

Ruby is afraid of what she can do. That's why she's kept her true abilities a secret for six years, ever since her tenth birthday. Not that she could use them anyway. Her kind, meaning kids with powers sorted and identified by colors ranging from blue to red, are imprisoned in camps, forced to work, supposedly being rehabilitated for the outside world, though aside from some experimentation, the only rehabilitation going on is that of making sure they fear and obey the guards over them. All the others of her color are gone, disposed of. As far as she knows, Ruby is the only one left, and then her secret is revealed. No one escapes the camps, but with her life on the line, Ruby manages it. But has she gone from one form of control to another? Desperate to keep her identity a secret, scarred by memories of what she's capable of, Ruby is hesitant to let anyone in, even when her heart is longing for the friendships and romance being offered her. One thing is for sure, Ruby's old life is gone, and she will have to find her own way in a new world.

I like plotlines that are a little dark sometimes. Maybe that's why I like to read dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. But there's more to it than just the thrill of it. I don't like a book that has no hope. So maybe that's what I like about this kind of book: the trickle of light in the night, the hope that pulls the characters through, the triumph over the trials. The higher the stakes, the better the hard-won victory. I think that's part of the appeal.

Ruby goes through a lot of internal struggle, which I really like, too. It's more than teenage angst. Ruby is powerful, and rather than use that power, she wants to escape it. She doesn't want to be dangerous, but she is. That makes for interesting internal and external conflict.

The plot is fast-paced, a chronicle of one escape after the next with truly loveable companions and complicated bad guys with varying degrees of evilness in a semi-post-apocalyptic United States. I love where the book leaves off for the sequel to pick up at. I don't want to spoil anything, but I think I can give you this: the book leaves you with one tantalizing question: is it sometimes necessary to choose a lesser evil to combat a greater one?

I almost gave this book five stars, I really did. I liked it that much. After all, I gave The Hunger Games five stars. But I couldn't quite do it, so it stands at four, maybe four and a half. Though there were tiny annoyances here and there (like the fact that Canada and Mexico would close their borders to the United States, and the reason given is that they never liked the United States and just needed a good excuse...right), the main reason is that it is truly dark and horrifying at places without the balance of a faith-based worldview. It's not too graphic, but the imagination is afforded lots of room to fill in the blanks. So, be warned, this book may not be for everyone. I do think it's appropriate enough for its targeted age group, though.

It's really too bad this book is just coming out this Tuesday because I'm looking forward to the next book already! But anticipation is fun, too, so join me and let's anticipate this next great series together!

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