Author: Alexandra Bracken
Series: Darkest Minds #1
Genre: Teen Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
The Overview: 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.
This book gives me turmoil because there were a lot of things I loved about it and only a couple of things I didn’t. Unfortunately, those couple of things were a rather big deal.
Story: Bracken really knows how to weave an engaging story. Not many books can make me dig down deep inside myself to feel genuine pain for what the characters are going through. The story tugged at my heartstrings throughout the entire novel before making me feel anguish and frustration for all of the last fifty pages.
This great use of emotion in storytelling is probably why the relationships within the book quickly became my favorite element. The friendships the main character develops were natural and gradual and led to one heck of a love story without ever turning the book into a “romance.” It was subtle and beautiful and I might actually go back and reread certain passages to experience it again. It was by far the strongest part of the story for me.
Conversely, my least favorite element of the book also had to do with story. I have come to expect many elements of brutality and shall we say “unsugar-coated” events from dystopian novels. It is what gives them their edge, raising the stakes and adding to the overall suspense of the plot. While there are many dystopian novels with far more tragic events than I saw here, Bracken piled them up in a way that made me incredibly unenthusiastic about reading the sequel. She took a lot of risks with the plot and, while it was highly unexpected, I don’t think it did her any favors. Other books like Partials and Divergent had many heart-wrenching and difficult moments. The difference it, at the end of those novels, what keeps the characters (and therefore the readers) moving forward is both hope of a brighter future and and some sort of plan to get there. From what I’ve seen in this first book, Bracken didn’t have those elements leaving me nothing but depressed and dissatisfied.
World Building: I am a sucker for a good concept. The idea of children with varying degrees of dangerous abilities excited me right from the start and Bracken did a great job creating the world around those ideas. On a side note, I get personal pleasure out of seeing things color-coded (I drive my coworkers crazy) so any time an author uses color to organize something, I am on board.
While Bracken does a great job with the concept side of her world building, I felt her settings could have used a bit of work. Not once throughout the novel was I sure if this world was truly suffering. There was one specific moment where we went from an abandoned town like any other post-apocalyptic one you read about to a suddenly crowded freeway where life seemed to move along unaffected. It was a contradiction that showed up many times throughout the book and I had a difficult time getting a feel for what life was supposed to be like for the average person in this world.
Characters: Part of the reason the romantic element was so good was Bracken’s ability to create great relationships between characters. We got to know each one organically and their personalities were perfectly rounded and deep making me feel like I was reading a journal log of real people – they were so lifelike! If I do continue reading this series, it will be because I miss the characters and wants to know where their journey ends.
Writing: Even though I had an issue with elements of story and setting, I still found Bracken’s writing style to be incredibly strong. It was always evoking, gut retching, and beautiful making me feel for everything with a passion. It took me by surprise and impress me with how the many pieces of the story came together with the fluidity that was effortless. she really has that kind of style that draws you in and keeps you there until you finish the book – into the wee hours of the morning and everything.
Pacing: At first I made several notes that her pacing was a bit slow. having now finishing the book I see that the only way to make those relationships develop naturally was to slow the story down a bit. It also provided a great contrast for when the plot really started to take off, building up into a breathtaking momentum that made my eyes weary near the end from trying to keep up. It was very well done, and I’m hoping she carries that same excitement into the second book.
Recommendations: The good news is – my biggest objection revolves around a decision with the storyline which means my lower rating has more to do with personal preferences than any flaws in the author’s craft. The bad news is – I can’t get totally behind her when making personal recommendations. I may change my opinion with the second book, but for now I would probably only recommend this to people who have already read my first 5 dystopian recommends (or if someone just HAS to have a book with a naturally-developing love story).
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