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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Darkest Minds

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds
The Darkest Minds, Book 1

Author: Alexandra Bracken
Pages: 496
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Source: ARC from BEA

Description from Goodreads:
When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

First Sentence: "When the White Noise went off, we were in the Garden, pulling weeds"

For whatever reason this book just did not work for me. All of my reviewer friends with similar taste enjoyed it a lot, like Great Imaginations, Cuddlebuggery, and Xpresso Reads. Perhaps I was not in the right mood, or maybe this falls under the category of books that mean that the readers most similar to me only agree with me on three out of four books.

This really should be a book that I love, and I'm not entirely sure where everything went wrong. I mean, it sounds so perfect for me: dystopian fiction about kids with powers. Obviously, I love dystopias, and I also will read anything I can get my hands on about people evolving powers ala X-Men. Some of the problem might have been my mood, but, whatever the case, this story fell entirely flat.

The writing, while not awful, did not stand out for me in any way. Within this book's pages, I saw several of those overused, annoying sentences, including one where the heroine doesn't realize she's not breathing and another where she hears a scream that she then figures out is hers. Of course, the fact that the font size, in the ARC at least, is so large exacerbates the childish feel to the writing. Take, for example, the very first sentence: the needless capitalization irks, as does the comma after "Garden." Again, it's certainly passable YA writing, but did not work for me at all.

What really kept me from engaging with this story is my lack of connection to Ruby. In a first person narrative, having a compelling, well-drawn MC is crucial, and Ruby is not that. She never really coalesced into a realistic person. At different points in the novel, she seems to be entirely different in terms of her personality. In the camp, for example, she allows her friend to be punished in her stead, unwilling or unable to leap to the friend's defense. Later on, she regularly joins the fray to protect friends, and is considered strong and trustworthy, ready to fight. While, yes, I can see that she might have been operating under different rules in the camp than on the run, I never got any sense of her going through a change. She doesn't evolve; she's just suddenly different, without any sort of "well, I'm free from camp now, so I can be me again!" and it makes her feel very uneven.

The other characters are better, and the story becomes much more readable when she joined up with Chubs, Zu, and Liam. Chubs and Liam are definitely my favorite parts of the book, particularly the book-obsessed Chubs. Then again, one of the books Chubs has is Watership Down, which Ruby read before entering the camp, and then feels the need to quote obsessively throughout the book, because apparently she still remembers exact lines. Sure. Are you getting the sense I didn't like Ruby by the way I sidetracked my discussion of the others to complain about her?

The plot moves in stereotypical dystopian directions. Insert dramatic chase here. Insert cookie cutter bad guys around every corner. Add false sense of safety here. Begin separating the friends. Throw in a surprise bad guy, but make it entirely obvious he's bad so the reader can indulge in some dramatic irony! Now, for increased drama, add a love triangle into the mix and bake at 350 degrees. Finally, remove plot from oven and cut slices out of the main character's heart. AND DONE.

A couple of times, I thought maybe Bracken had done something to catch me off guard, but those would turn out to be fake out twists, followed by the totally predictable things I was expecting all along. She writes using the Chekhov rule. If something gets mentioned more than once, it will be used before the book is finished. This rule helps, of course, but it was so heavy-handed that I knew precisely where the story was headed.

There's a lot of potentially good things in this story, and it wasn't terrible, though I know my ranting might make it seem that I hated it. It just bored me pretty much all the way through. For a book about kids with powers like telepathy and telekinesis, there sure is not too much done with the powers. Stupid kids, if you all just use your powers against the grown ups, this is all over! Also, if all of the kids either died from that disease or developed these powers, why has the government not developed a proactive plan? All they're doing is slowly killing off the remaining kids when they should be turning this to their advantage on the global scale. The reaction to the crisis does not seem believable.

Listen, ranting aside, lots of people have loved this book, and I urge you to check out those reviews I linked to before taking this book off of your to-read list. Sometimes I just do not agree with anyone, and this could be that time.

Rating: 2/5

Favorite Quote: "'Maybe nothing will ever change for us,' he said. 'But don't you want to be around just in case it does?'"

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Blogger brandileigh2003 said...

While I enjoyed this one, I can completely sympathize with not being able to get into a book because not connecting with the main character.
Hope your next read is better.
Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

February 18, 2013 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I don't know if it was or not, but I read this at the beginning of January, so I'm all recovered now. :-p

February 18, 2013 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Lenore Appelhans said...

I loved Zu - she was like an Asian Drew Barrymore in Firestarter.

February 18, 2013 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Lol! I saw that comment in your discussion. I can see it. But then she just leaves. Everything was so anticlimactic. I wanted her to firestart some people or something.

February 18, 2013 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

I love your dystopian recipe - it made me giggle. Now I'm staring at this book a little warily. It's on my desk at work, and I was going to read it because I've been terrible at book-clubbing. Maybe I should hold off...

February 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Well, so far as I know, I'm the only one with negative feelings about this book, though a couple people I know had more intermediate feelings. Most people really liked it. *shrug*

February 18, 2013 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Well, you know me. There is no specific formula as to what will make me like/hate a book.

February 18, 2013 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Nope. Depends on your mood, on the book, and on the direction of the wind.

February 18, 2013 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Bekka said...

Oh man. I was really hoping you'd like this since you're basically the queen of dystopians. It sounds soooo good, and all the positive reviews have called it dark and gruesome and I just want to love it.

Also, your dystopian recipe cracked me up!

February 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Still worth trying probably, since people I generally agree with loved it. Maybe something about it just rubs me the wrong way. You could love it. Didn't strike me as particularly gruesome though. Maybe I've just read so many I'm hard to shock.

Honestly, it cracked me up today too, because I did not remember writing that, since I wrote this review over a month ago.

February 18, 2013 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger Tez Miller said...

Don't know how similar how tastes are (a few days ago, Goodreads said we were 68%, so I couldn't send a friend request), but this book totally didn't work for me. Gave up after 100 pages. Was just bog-standard dystopian, nothing new.

February 18, 2013 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Renae @ Respiring Thoughts said...

I love what you said about Bracken's writing in this review. It's what I've been the most curious about, since I essentially DNFed the author's first novel, Brightly Woven, for it's absolutely heinous and juvenile prose. Many reviews (even negative ones), haven't touched too much on writing style, so your thoughts on that were very helpful.

February 18, 2013 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Lynn K. said...

This was how I felt about The Immortal Rules. Recipe for the things I should had loved but just didn't. I see what you mean about writing, though I didn't notice it at first. I'm still interested in reading this but lowering the expectations a little probably won't hurt. :P

February 19, 2013 at 1:55 AM  
Blogger Dragana M. said...

'The Darkest Minds' was on Goodreads Movers & Shakers list some time ago and I added it to my tbr, but I still hesitate to buy this book.As you said, it sounds like something I would like, but I don't know my spidey senses are tingling and warning me 'danger danger do not engage'.
Great review, you pointed out some things in writing style that I think would annoy me too.

February 19, 2013 at 5:04 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ah, I'll find you and send a request. People I know can totally fudge the rules. It's just to keep people I've never interacted with from friend requesting me. Yup, and it wasn't standard dystopian done particularly well.

February 19, 2013 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hmm, yeah, I know I've seen her writing praised in at least one review, and it made me wonder if I read the wrong book. They were even both ARC reviews. But I suppose different styles appear to different people. I had a lot of trouble with Ruby's character, so maybe for those that bonded to her the writing felt just right?

February 19, 2013 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oooh, I did like that one, but I totally get it. Lowering expectations doesn't often hurt, it's true!

February 19, 2013 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

If I were you, I would read the Amazon preview or a chapter sampler, if there is one. If you like the beginning a lot, go for it. If you're skeptical, library.

February 19, 2013 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger Dragana M. said...

How I did not think of that, there is an Amazon preview available with first two chapters. Thanks. :)

February 19, 2013 at 8:45 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Glad I could help. The book never grabbed me, but I think most people were into it from the beginning. *shrug*

February 19, 2013 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

Ugh I don't know if I would like this. Like you, I think Ruby would drive me absolutely bonkers. The progression that a character goes through in a novel and I hate when all of a sudden it's like "whoa where did this girl come from" and when you think about it she shouldn't be. Sorry you had such a rough time with this one. Yay for me not being the only black sheep in the herd!

February 19, 2013 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I know! But I'm the only one who seems to have felt that way, so maybe I'm crazy. I don't know. BAAAAA!

February 19, 2013 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger April (BooksandWine) said...

LOL children really can be stupid. Like, I love the point you make about them using powers against grown ups.

ALSO being able to connect is pivotal to my enjoyment of a book, so that sucks that you weren't able to do that.

Also, I still have this one from BEA waiting to be read. I suppose I will get to it eventually. The big font actually really appeals to me hahahaha as I am currently interested in fast reads.

February 19, 2013 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Seriously, you've got badass powers, you use them! Like, maybe it's not that easy to learn and they can't at the camps, but I would think some of them would at least be trying. Pretty much the only one who uses his powers regularly is the head dude in the camp, whose name I cannot recall.

Exactly. I am all about connecting to MCs, and that just didn't happen.

Lol, go for it. As long as you aren't as bored by it as I was, you should be through it in no time.

February 19, 2013 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

Ugh, cliches are almost guaranteed to turn me off. And the whole 'I realised that sound was me, screaming' thing is one of those - girl, the fact that your mouth is wide open and your throat is burning is kind of a clue.

Maybe the problem is that someone forgot the icing on the cake? Or sparklers, they always make cake better.

February 19, 2013 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

For real. You might be only distantly aware of your response or be surprised that you didn't make the conscious decision to scream, but you probably know that you ARE screaming.

MMMMM. Now I want some cake. Without sparklers.

February 19, 2013 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Also the amount of direct sunlight filtering through my shuttered windows onto my nose.

February 19, 2013 at 5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was one of those VERY rare books that I couldn't finish. I got about halfway through and was so incredibly bored that I didn't want to waste any more time on it. I had the same problems with it that you did. I could not connect with Ruby at all, which is incredibly important for me when I'm reading. She felt very flat and I was so frustrated with her whenever her use (or lack of) powers came up. Oh, and it was just very predictable for me and felt like the same thing happened over and over. I'm glad I didn't force myself to finish it because it sounds like I wouldn't have enjoyed it.

February 19, 2013 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

I totally loved this one but as a reader I know that if I cannot connect with the mc all hope is lost. I am so sorry that happen to you.

February 21, 2013 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I'm not alone! Hurrah! I mean, I'm sorry that you couldn't love it like other people did, but it's good to know that I'm not crazy or a grump.

You really did have the same reaction! The ending was slightly better, but not awesome enough to save the book as a whole.

February 21, 2013 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yup. Connection is so crucial!

February 21, 2013 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Vivien said...

I did struggle with this one a little bit but then I'd read a passage that really struck me. I was really in between until the end which made up a little bit for me overall. I did enjoy this more than Brightly Woven.

March 9, 2013 at 4:58 PM  

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