By Alexandra Bracken
**Doing a standard review rather than a poem for this one because I was lucky enough to get access to an advanced copy via NetGalley and want to give it the full treatment!
I have been a bated-breath fan of Alex Bracken ever since her 2010 release of Brightly Woven which was reminiscent of Tamora Pierce's fantasy classics in all the best ways: a vibrant, original fantasy world; interesting and likable heroine; a charming and loyal if troubled and mysterious rogue of a romantic interest (not to mention a deft balance between romance and friendship, romantic development and actual action). I was totally enamored of her debut and have been eagerly waiting to see what she would do next ever since. The Darkest Minds, her forthcoming second novel (released on December 18; I got my advanced copy via NetGalley), absolutely lived up to my expectations. Girl delivered.
A fusion of the supernatural and dystopian genres, The Darkest Minds is set in a dystopian, economically broken United States in the not too distant future. In the midst of economic collapse, a mysterious disease ravages the country's children, attacking them as soon as they enter puberty. The unlucky majority die; those that survive develop supernatural abilities instead of succumbing to the disease. Abilities they don't understand, that make them a threat to the fragile US government, who decides the best course of action is to relocate these children to "rehabilitation camps." This is where we meet 16-year-old Ruby, at a rehabilitation camp called Thurmond, where she has been an inmate since her 10th birthday when her own parents called the police to come pick her up. When the truth about her powers risks exposure, Ruby makes her escape from Thurmond. On the road, she finds herself in the company of an eccentric band of fellow escapees - including their charming leader, Liam - in a race against time and truth as they attempt to outrun enemies who would exploit their powers in a fight against the government and make it safely to the East River, reputedly the last outpost of kids with abilities left free from the clutches of outside forces. But life outside the camp is a lot more complicated and a lot more dangerous than Ruby could've known and it's not always clear who the real enemy is - least of all when Ruby fears it could be Ruby herself. As Ruby grapples with her powers and the mixed dangers and responsibilities that come with them, she must decide where her loyalties lie and what side she must take in order to protect the ones she loves.
From page one, Alex Bracken immerses you in the dark world the US has transformed into at the hands of the disease and economic crisis. Thurmond is an unsettling place and the dangers Ruby faces feel all too real - not quite distant enough from reality for the reader to feel entirely safe, either. I thought that Bracken's development of the kids' powers and the five categories they fall into - green, blue, yellow, orange, and red - was quite creative, and if I sometimes didn't feel like I fully understood them, it was only because the kids themselves (especially Ruby) didn't either. True of Brightly Woven but all the more so in The Darkest Minds is how well Bracken creates the subtle dynamics of characters' histories and personalities, and how those play into their relationships with other characters. Each character's personality is fully developed and unique, and the report between the characters - especially Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu - is delightful. It invites you not just to read and observe but participate in the story. And when the story reaches its emotional and plot climax - woah, boy. Watch out. The Darkest Minds wriggles into your heart and forms a soft spot there, then the ending punches you exactly where it knows it will hurt. And you won't see it coming - at least I didn't. I can't wait for Book 2!!!