The Darkest Minds is a wrenching, breath-taking book that is filled with twisting plot revelations and “colorful” characters (you’ll get the reference when you read the book). It is, on the surface, a simple road-trip tale about a group of kids seeking sanctuary at an illusive place, located somewhere in Virginia, known only as “East River.”
But there’s so much happening below the surface: Who are these kids? What are they? Why are they on the run? Who are they running from? Who are they running to? Will they actually make it? And what does it all mean for them and their world? All of these questions keep you reading, keep you riveted to the book. It’s not always a smooth ride. There are plenty of bumps that would give even Black Betty fits (another reference you’ll get after reading the book). But one thing is certain: The Darkest Minds is the kind of story that is both disturbing and entertaining – and can stay with you long after you put it down.
The story involves a teenage girl, named Ruby, who has spent all of her adolescence inside a prison camp – all because she survived a deadly disease … and developed dangerous mental powers. In truth, the world-building is the weakest element of the book. There’s very little explanation for the virus, or its connection to the psychic (psi) powers that kids begin displaying. Some of the ambiguity lends itself to mystery, which can keep readers involved in the story. But there’s no payoff, which can be problematic.
Likewise, there’s not much of an explanation for what exactly the kids are capable of. They are assigned colors and readers can begin to infer something about how the colors relate to specific power (blue=telekinesis; green=high intelligence; yellow=control over electricity; orange=mind control; red=pyrotechnics). But it’s left too vague for too long to really drive home the point about segregation (which becomes a significant point later on in the story).
Still, there’s enough here to make the story world engaging and interesting – and, more importantly, allow our hero, Ruby, to begin her journey of self-discovery. She’s a wonderfully flawed character, full of self-doubt (and self-loathing). After her tenth birthday she – and her life – radically changed. Her journey, then, is one much like the journey of adolescence, minus the paramilitary operatives who wish to use Ruby’s abilities as a means to their own nefarious ends. And even this, too, is not unlike how some adults try to exploit the promise of youth.
Ruby is joined on her journey by: Liam, a kind-yet-flawed leader; Chubs, who is eccentric, anti-social, but highly loyal; and Suzume, a quiet, unassuming, but entirely lovable character. Much of the story is spent with the interactions between these characters and it’s almost always for the good. After an initial period of distrust, there’s a natural camaraderie that develops among them. And while the romance between Ruby and Liam isn’t handled with the same subtlety, the way Chubs and Ruby eventually learn to respect one another is exceptionally well-done.
All of this is important because, by the end of the story, Ruby’s final actions will become all the more … wrenching. It’s clear that Ruby has finally decided to take control over her life, rather than allow others to control her. But her means of liberating herself will likely lead to trouble … in the inevitable sequel …