The Darkest Minds is a fascinating science fiction novel, with a very unique premise. After the prologue set in the present, the novel opens by backtracking to when Ruby was ten years old. All around her, her classmates and friends are sickening and dying with what was first called Everhart's Disease but which eventually came to be known as IAAN - Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. Children first began getting sick when Ruby was in Grade 4 and her first experience of it was seeing her classmate, Grace, drop dead in class.
But Ruby soon discovers that the adults, including her parents are terrified of the children who have not sickened and died. So terrified in fact, that the surviving children have been sent to special "rehabilitation" camps like Thurmond, located somewhere in Virginia. These camps are guarded by special armed forces known as PSI Forces but they do not rehabilitate.
Once there, the children are examined and undergo a CT scan to check their brains. They are then classified according to their special abilities into various categories; Green, Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Red. Blues have telekenetic abilities, while Oranges can manipulate other peoples minds. Ruby sees this for herself when she arrives at the camp and a 13-year-old Orange causes an army officer to kill herself. When she sees how the yellow, oranges and reds are treated, she knows she cannot be classified as an Orange, so she manipulates the doctor who examines her and she is classified as a Green.
Eventually however, the scientists discover that some Yellows, Oranges and Reds have managed to escape detection. At Thurmond, the Calm Control, a special auditory signal designed to control the children is changed to expose those children who have hidden their abilities. Ruby is one of these children and she is discovered through her serious adverse reaction to the CC signal. However, to her disbelief and great fear, a doctor, Cate Begbie surreptitiously slips her a note telling her to do exactly what she asks so as to save her life.
Ruby does what Cate asks and she is rescued from Thurmond. But when she meets Cate's boyfriend/partner and she inadvertently touches him she learns that he is not what he seems to be. Ruby decides that she needs to part ways with Cate and Rob and that happens sooner than she expects. While in the convenience store, she catches a young girl scavenging in the ruins and gives chase. When Ruby hears Cate and Rob searching for her she makes the decision to follow the girl into the van being driven by two other young people; Liam, who is 18 and a Blue as is his partner, Chubs, while the little girl Suzume (Zu) is a Yellow who wears yellow gloves to protect others from her touch. Fear of being abandoned, once again leads Ruby into lying and she tells Liam and Chubs that she is a Green.
Shortly after picking up Ruby, the group finds themselves being pursued by Cate and later on by PSI Forces, as well as a skip tracer named Lady Jane whom Liam had a run in with earlier. Driving in a battered black van Liam calls Black Betty, they flee from one town to the next in a game of cat and mouse. Their overall goal is to find a mysterious, hidden community of children and young people called East River. East River is run by a young person named Slkip Kid who supposedly has repeatedly escaped the authorities, and offers children with special abilities a safe haven. The three of them, along with Zu want to find East River, contact their parents and hopefully go home. Ruby also wants to learn how to control her abilities so that she can live without the fear of harming people. As things are now, she must avoid all human contact.
However, when the four stumble across a group from East River and are taken there, Ruby is shocked to learn who Slip Kid is. The identity of Slip Kid is foreshadowed earlier in the novel, when Ruby was still an inmate at Thurmond. Very quickly she, Liam, and Chubs come to realize that East River is nothing like what they hoped. And Slip Kid even more so. Chubs even suggests that they have left behind one type of camp for another. Eventually, their confrontation with Slip Kid turns deadly leading Ruby to make some very difficult choices.
Bracken has crafted a remarkable tale, managing to create realistic characters and place them in heart-pounding situations that keep the reader craving more. The story is told in Ruby's voice which is authentic, making us feel every one of Ruby's fears and emotions. Ruby is a caring girl, who fully believes she is a monster. She knows what she is capable of, something readers don't know until more than halfway through the novel. As Ruby matures, she wants to understand how to control her unique abilities, rather than using them to harm people. She doesn't understand why other Oranges have done terrible things, whether they were this way before or became what they are because of how they were treated. One of the great strengths of this novel is how Ruby begins to quickly mature throughout the story. Slip Kid although a cruel and manipulative person, manages to teach Ruby something about her abilities and she begins to understand how she might survive in her "brave new world" without losing who she is.
In addition to the suspense, Bracken has added a developing romance between Liam and Ruby. This romantic element is filled with a great deal of angst however, because Ruby is afraid that her touch might hurt Liam. Nevertheless, the two manage to develop a deep friendship and it is this friendship that results in Ruby making the shocking decision she does at the end of the novel.
Perhaps more significant is the wonderful, pure friendship that eventually develops between Ruby and Chubs who is skeptical of Ruby the moment he encounters her. This leads to an element of conflict between the two, because Chubs intuitively knows she's hiding something and thinks she's a danger to their group. This conflict continues throughout most of the novel but is resolved near the end.
One of the interesting features of this novel is the author's use of the novel, Watership Down by Richard Adams. In this novel, a small group of rabbits living in southern England have their own culture. One of the rabbits, Fiver, has a vision in which he sees their home destroyed. Unable to convince the other rabbits to seek safety, Fiver, along with a group of rabbits leaves their warren to find a new home. When their warren is destroyed, they look for a new home and settle in Watership Down. But Watership Down is not ideal and problems ensue. They have no does and send representatives to another warren called Efrafa. However, they soon learn that Efrafa is a rigidly controlled warren where there are few freedoms. Some of the does however, do wish to leave the tyranny of Efrafa and they are helped by Hazel, Fiver's brother and the other rabbits. This results in a great conflict between the two warrens and an epic battle.
Ruby has read Watership Down and Chubs is reading it when they are traveling around in Black Betty.What happened in Watership Down is similar to what is happening in Ruby's life and she can relate to the rabbit's situation in the novel. Like Efrafa, East River was supposed to be a haven for the Psi children. Instead, it is ruled by the cruel Clancy Gray, who considers Oranges to be above everyone else. But Ruby knows that "by cunning and full of tricks" she can preserve a part of who she is and she can survive.
The Darkest Minds has a great cover that readers won't understand until they get a little ways into the novel. And the title is a reference to the mind of those labelled as Oranges, as it becomes evident that these young people have the superior capability to manipulate others - leading to the possibility of great abuse and tyranny. In other words, they have the darkest minds. The symbol on the cover is not a trident but is in fact the Greek letter Psi (φ) done in orange and yellow.
There's no other way to describe this book than awesome. It is in the same league as The Hunger Games, well written, good plot development and a kicker of an ending. I can't wait to read the next book, Never Fade, which will be published Fall 2013.
The book trailer is short and sweet:
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
New York: Hyperion 2013