Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review of The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Hyperion Books
The Darkest Minds
Alexandra Bracken
5 Scribbles

A virus has decimated the childhood population of the United States, and those children who remain alive have been infected with strange, paranormal abilities.  Just like in Nazi-era Germany, children are taken from their families once the aftereffects of the virus become evident, and the family is told the surviving children are getting treatment, medical attention, proper exercise and mental stimulation.  And while not all parents agree with the action, parents are in no position to argue—the government has changed, the economy is in shambles, and even Canada and Mexico have built walls to lock out U.S. citizens.  Ruby, taken from her home on her tenth birthday and imprisoned inhumanely for six years, is desperate to escape her concentration camp and find her way back to her grandmother.  Little does Ruby know that it isn’t just the government who wants to hold her hostage; there is war going on, and opposing factions are all on the prowl—collecting children as their weapons.

A major strength of this futuristic work of sci-fi is its unique setting—a United States in the midst of an economic apocalypse where citizens are so focused on the economic situation, they stand by and allow their children to be taken. Even though this may sound unlikely, one must only look to history to know such events are possible (Nazi Germany). What is slightly less unique to this novel is the virus that results in random paranormal abilities—a condition which feels suspiciously, very X-Men. However, strong writing brings a less comic book and more real-world feel to this work. The work is largely plot-driven. Blood soaked chapters in the first half of the novel move quickly and create a sense of desperation for the main characters, Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Suzume, all teenagers who have escaped camps and must hide out (since children are no longer seen in the public at large). Yet while the plot and conflict are center stage for the work, it is impossible not to bond with the main characters. Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Suzume ,a sort of rag-tag family despite their mistrust of others, a family that is seen largely through the eyes of the protagonist, Ruby. Readers will fall in love with Suzume, the pink-clad, silent little girl who desperately needs a female role-model, enjoy Chubs, whose quirky sense of humor and snappy one-liners will make the reader chuckle at the same time they are horrified, and idolize Liam, the rock of the group. And while suspicion and mistrust lace the novel, especially in the second half, when political intrigue multiplies, these characters remain true. The layers of political intrigue that form a sort of underground war that are created in this novel are admirable. In fact, they lay the groundwork for a series of possibly epic proportions. Factions have formed in the U.S. who all have a particular agenda, like the Skiptracers who earn bounty from captured teens, the Children’s League, who “rescue” children, and the Red Army, or the President’s secret, specially-trained forces. No individual or faction in this novel is as they first appear, and perhaps that is what makes this new release such an engaging and enjoyable read.  And since I don’t want to give away any big spoilers in the novel, I certainly cannot elaborate much on the juiciness in part two, which had me a bit skeptical in parts (particularly about Ruby’s behavior), but which absolutely sucked me in! Undoubtedly everyone who reads book one will be waiting to see what the next installment holds.

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