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The Darkest Minds trilogy by Alexandra Bracken

An intensely fantastic dystopian adventure that I feverishly devoured!

10576365 The Darkest Minds

In the near future, a deadly brain disease kills a large percentage of the children in the United States. IAAN or Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration caused most children to die around the age of ten. The ones who don’t die are to be feared as they possess special brain powers. The government sets up camps to house these gifted children, proposing that they will be housed, trained, and “rehabilitated” into normal children again. Instead, they are separated according to their abilities into colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, and Green, and forced to live and work in sub-human conditions.

On her tenth birthday, Ruby woke up expecting birthday pancakes, but instead, when she touches her parents, something terrible happens. Instantly, Ruby becomes an unknown stranger to her family and is sent away to live at Thurmond, one of the containment camps, for six years where she hides her abilities, pretending to be a Green rather than an Orange (see color descriptions below). When she is discovered by the staff during an unscheduled alarm, she can either die or be smuggled out by the Children’s League, an organization fighting the government but also using kids as soldiers. Ruby chooses to escape, but then she takes the first chance she has to run away from her new captors, managing to find another group of camp runaways. Her companions are Zu, a young Yellow girl who is tiny, sweet, and doesn’t speak; Chubs, a Blue nerdy older boy who is wary of strangers and mothers everyone; and Liam, the charismatic leader of their tiny band, also a Blue. Together they search for the East River, a haven of sorts for kids like them where they hope to get the means to find their families and where Ruby thinks she might learn more about her abilities. All the while they’re being tracked by bounty hunters, soldiers, and the Children’s League. When the East River turns out to be too good to be true, everything falls on Ruby’s shoulders. She can be afraid of her gift and be controlled, or she can fight to save her friends, even if it means she dies…

Spoiler! Interpreting the colors for everyone’s abilities

Red: makes things and themselves burst into flames

Orange: can manipulate or control the brain in some way

Yellow: can create or possess electrical surges

Blue: telekinetic

Green: little human computers, are whizzes with technology.

Two quick and funny excerpts (taking place about halfway through the book, don’t know exactly because I was reading an e-reader version) from The Darkest Minds:

“I’m gonna go, so you–don’t fight anymore, okay?” I said. “I’m sorry I lied to you. I know I should have left, but I wanted to help you get home because you had helped me, and I’m sorry, I’m so, so, sorry—“

“Ruby,” Chubs said. Then again, louder. “Ruby! Oh, for the love of…we were talking about Black Betty, not your Orange ass.” [Side note: Black Betty is their minivan.]

I froze. “I just…I thought…I understand why you would leave me behind…”

“Huh?” Liam looked horrified. “We left the radio on in case you woke up, so you’d know that we didn’t leave you.”

God help me, that only made me cry harder.

When a girl cries, few things are more worthless than a boy. Having two of them just meant that they stared at each other helplessly instead of at me. Chubs and Liam stood, up to their ears in awkward, until Chubs finally reached out and patted my head like he would have patted a dog.

*Liam to studious reader Chubs*

“Any day now, Marian Librarian. I thought you were the one that wanted to check out.” 

Chubs gave him the finger. 

untitled2 the darkest minds Never Fade

After Ruby chose to save Chubs from death by calling Cate from the Children’s League, she wiped Liam’s memories of her so that he couldn’t remember their relationship and come back for her.

Now, in her new role as the Leader of her small team of psi kids and working for the Children’s League, Ruby finds herself connected to Liam in another way. His brother, Cole Stewart, is high in the Children’s League and he needs Ruby’s help. When Cole was on a mission, his brother stole his jacket, the one hiding a flash drive with the secrets about IAAN that can cause a war. Ruby will do anything to save Liam, and after being with the League for a few months, she’s been extensively trained. She sets out to find him, but there are no small problems in the way. 1) Her handlers will be furious and vengeful, 2) she is saddled with her youngest and most inexperienced teammate, Jude, who is also incapable of duplicity, 3) she has to cross the nation while people are still out to capture or kill her, 4) the prospect of seeing Liam and having him know what she did to save him might just be the end of them both. As Ruby’s past and present collide, she struggles under the strain that her choices have put on her relationships, finding the one person she can’t run from is herself.

untitled3the darkest minds never fade In the Afterlight

After the catastrophic ending in the last book, Ruby is having a hard time putting herself back together. She cannot forgive herself for not protecting Jude when they were escaping from the bombings and carries the weight of his death on her shoulders. As Ruby, Cole, Liam, Chubs, and the remnants of the kids from the Children’s League flee to a safe haven, they dedicate themselves to a strong mission–one Ruby’s been trying to pursue since she came to the Children’s League–to free their peers from the horrors of the containment camps. Not everyone agrees with Ruby and Cole’s plans since they’re also facing a larger battle, one to set the country right again and possibly find a cure for IAAN. Ruby might not be the same girl that came from Thurmond, but she’s determined to give everything she has to save kids from that horror. She owes it to them to use her dangerous powers, and sacrifice herself, to do the world’s greatest good.

I really loved this series. Despite knowing that there must be a few glaring holes (like, hello? where are the lawyers and policemen and people who work in service industries? Seemingly, how can the world go back to the way it is now at the end of the third book?), the breakneck pace and palpable plot tension drive dynamic characters into conflict all the way through the novels, and there’s not much opportunity to miss small details in the setting and backstory. Readers will be hard pressed not to like Ruby and her transformation from a timid, weak passive character into a strongly driven young woman who ultimately changes the future of an entire nation. The most disappointing part of the series is in the first few chapters of The Darkest Minds when you’re just trying to get a handle on what is happening and who Ruby is. My advice is to stick with it until she meets Zu, Chubs, and Liam and see if that seals the deal for you, because that’s when the intrigue makes a big difference and many unknowns are revealed.

Note: Definitely for older teens (probably not most middle schoolers) since this is an intense read. Violence, Language, and some Sexual Circumstances, though that is not as graphic as the violence. Psychological trauma–worse than what they describe with Peeta in the Hunger Games series.

 
 

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Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld

One of the earlier examples of dystopian fiction before it blew up into super-popularity due to The Hunger Games and Divergent, the Uglies series was a hit for author Scott Westerfeld and introduces a futuristic world where the United States is long gone and leave its wasting skyscrapers and automobiles as “Rusty” relics due to a petroleum virus that wiped out most of the planet. New cities have formed, functioning like prisons, letting no one out and no one in. Citizens are required to get an operation when they turn 16 making them into pretties, transforming their “ugly” bodies into flawless beauty and minds rewired by shallow concerns. New pretties spend their days partying in New Pretty Town, having their every need met–from beautiful clothes to to-die-for apartments–while the younger uglies play tricks and live in squalor.

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 Uglies

Tally Youngblood is ready for her birthday and her operation when her friend Peris becomes a New Pretty. Tally has three long months before she can join him and acts out by doing dangerous tricks, but when she’s running away from security after an epic trick, she meets Shay, another tricky Ugly with whom Tally shares her birthday. Shay and Tally form a fast friendship, but Shay decides to escape her Pretty operation by fleeing into the wilderness after the mysterious David. In retaliation for Tally and Shay’s friendship, Tally is prevented from becoming a Pretty by the Specials, cruel-looking pretties in charge of the city who demand she follow Shay and betray her. Tally has only two choices: betray Shay and become pretty or stay an ugly forever. She reluctantly sets out to meet Shay and David with a set of cryptic instructions, but Tally just might find she has a third option…one that changes her and ignites a chain reaction in the entire world.

Pretties

When we left Tally, she had agreed to be a test subject for David’s mother, a talented scientist who thinks she can cure Pretties, because Tally wanted to save Shay who was captured by the Specials and forcibly given her operation. Now, Tally is a Pretty, and she, Shay, and Peris are trying to get into a Pretty clique, the Crims, a group of more daring and desirable New Pretties. Zane is leader of the Crims, and Tally finds herself drawn to him. He makes her feel bubbly or more alive. At the party with Zane, Tally is confronted by an oddly familiar face–Croy, of David’s Smokies, the people living free outside of the cities. Croy gives her a mystery that leads Tally and Zane to the two pills that contain the cure. When the Specials try to catch them, they split the pills and experience growing periods of clear thoughts. However, Zane begins to be very ill, and Tally must find him help outside the city, relying on the bubbly Crims to help her. Her two dangers are the Specials and Shay, who seems to have found her own way to be bubbly by cutting herself. But in their quest to become bubbly and succeeding, have they started a revolution?

Specials

Tally has changed once again as she has been taken by Special Circumstances and made into a Special, one of the talented new Cutters. She follows Shay, her leader and also the one who betrayed her and the Smokies. Tally is still conflicted, and can’t reconcile her love for her fellow Cutters and her love for Zane, who they think is helping the missing Smokies. To set a trap and keep Zane safe from the other Specials, they send him as bait into the wild with just Shay and Tally following him on a secret mission. However, Shay and Tally argue and decide to split off–Tally following Zane and the Crims and Shay following a technological pathway that only reveals the way to the Smokies one step at a time. What once was simple is growing more and more complicated as their new abilities and Tally’s extraordinarily adaptive thinking spur a radical change that could mean a global war.

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Extras

In a new novel that exists in the Pretties world but fairly separate from the one readers have gotten to know, young Aya Fuse is dying to be a kicker (what equals a sort of social media journalist) and break the next big story, increasing her rank and fame. Right now, Aya is extra, not anyone important, but she knows a big secret that could change everything. She finds a secret clique that does dangerous stunts known as the Sly Girls. Determined to film them and launch them into fame and herself with it, she attempts to hunt them down and become one of them. Knowing her game, the Sly Girls goodnaturedly prevent her hovercam, Moggle, (think of Moggle kind of like Weebo in Flubber…) from working but allow her to ride the bullet trains with them. When they discover a secret entrance in a mountain, Aya follows an even bigger story, one that involves (an equivalent of) weapons of mass destruction and the possible obliteration of the world as they know it. The new dangers bring in a few old favorites as Tally, Shay, Fausto, and David enter into the adventure once more to protect the world with their special gifts, and Aya discovers the power she possesses to influence…

For middle grade readers who perhaps have finished The City of Ember series and are ready for a new dystopian but not quite up for the brutality and rough survival of The Hunger Games and Divergent or even Legend, this is a great series. They will connect with Tally because she, too, is on the edge of a big life change–moving from an ugly to a pretty, much similar to the move from child to teenager or from middle school to high school. Though Tally is about to turn 16, she acts and thinks much younger, finding herself very uncertain in her path and her choices. She wants to make the right ones, and she struggles to understand the consequences. We watch as Tally starts out as a self-centered mediocre rebel, forced to become a puppet, and yet every time she manages to think for herself. Despite her pre-disposition to follow the crowd and the odds of failure, Tally shows her own independence and strength of character and comes to succeed. In Extras, we find her still trying to save the world, maybe making mistakes getting there, but ultimately realizing them and setting them to rights. Aya offsets Tally’s narrow-minded views by showing a new way of thinking and discovering that the world isn’t so much in black and white/good and bad, but that it has gray areas and its best not to judge at first glance.

untitledFor my own sake, I just want to say this is one of THE HARDEST series to write about! It possesses it’s own jargon that you must conform to (and be utterly annoyed by) when attempting to describe it. (Note that there is basically a dictionary on the Uglies world called Bogus to Bubbly. ) While I thought this series was great for middle grade readers, I did not find Tally to be believable for a 16 year old narrator. She just acts too immature and too insecure than most 16 year olds, more like 12-14YOs instead. With that being said, some of the descriptions and lead-in just were also not convincing enough for older teen readers though they might still like the books. This might be attributed to her brain surgery, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good series. My favorite out of all of them was Extras, because I found the reputation ranking fascinating and Aya more likeable. I give this one a solid 3 stars.

Note: Brief sexual situations.

 
 

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Recent William C. Morris Debut Award finalist! 18166936

 The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

In a haunting and richly imagined multi-generational narrative comes an offbeat tale of a girl born with wings with a heritage of heartbreak, tragedy, and being an outcast on the fringes of society.

To preface and give depth to her own story, our heroine Ava Lavender begins her tale with the story of her Maman, her great-grandmother who immigrated to “Manhatine” and had four children, one of them Ava’s grandmother Emilienne. From Maman to Emilienne and her siblings, then Ava’s mother Vivianne, and finally Ava and Henry, each suffer terrible heartbreak that is offset through magical abilities and passed down in an odd legacy. Ava herself is struggling to understand her past and her identity, especially how a girl with wings fits into the world. Sheltered by her mother and grandmother, Ava longs to be normal and tries to break out of the protected circle of her home with mixed results. Her best friend and bff’s brother both love her purely, but Ava’s wings draw the comparison with angelic power. In that day and age, there was a lot of superstition and secrecy, denouncing sin but hiding cruelty. Ava’s mystical circumstance catches the perverted notice of a young clergyman and what follows is the brutality and brilliance of love, both the exploited kind and the true kind that eclipses all before it.

I both loved and hated this book, so it is a little hard to explain. I loved the writing, the imagery, the unique tale, but the plot and a few other particular areas, I disliked with a passion. I would not know how to recommend this book to anyone. Really. Definitely not anyone with a strong religious bent. It does contain violence, sexual circumstances, and graphic sexual scenes. I also did not find that the title at all fit with my reading of the book. I thought the ending rather too sad to be at all beautiful, and so horribly tragic that I won’t be picking it up again. I’m sure something by Shakespeare would describe it. Or perhaps poems about death, how comparisons are drawn with beautiful and peaceful things, but then death is violent and bloodthirsty and insatiable…

Note: Not for the majority of middle grade readers.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Fantasy, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

13522285 The Beginning of Everything

Seventeen-year-old Ezra Faulkner has a theory, that everyone has a tragedy–a single moment that changes your life so completely that everything after is somehow more than before. For his best friend Toby, that moment was riding a roller coaster while a child stood up, got decapitated, and Toby caught the severed head. Since then, Ezra disassociated with Toby because who wanted all that terrible attention and teasing? For Ezra, his moment comes after he feels he’s on top of the world. He was a star tennis player looking to be recruited for college, had a beautiful girlfriend, and was one of the very popular crowd. One night after a party where he finds his girlfriend cheating on him, he gets in his car to go back home and another car smashes into him. Ezra loses his kneecap and can never play tennis again. His friends don’t ever call or check up on him while he’s in the hospital, and he’s utterly alone except for his overprotective and coddling parents. He’s the one that draws the stares and whispering this time. Surprisingly, the one person who comes through for him is his old friend Toby and his enthusiasm for the debate team where Ezra meets the spectacular Cassidy and must learn to navigate his new life with the aftereffects of his personal tragedy. What he doesn’t realize is that everyone just expects him to be the same old Ezra, but what if Ezra doesn’t want to be the same old? What if he wants to be…new Ezra.

cvr9781471115462_9781471115462_hrDespite the oddity that is this book, I really liked it and it could definitely be a John Green read-a-like even if it doesn’t feel like it ends as happily as some of his do. This is actually a reprint of a popular UK title Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, which I think fits much better than The Beginning of Everything. I expected this book to be more about roller coasters or something. Boy, was I wrong. :) It was quirky, smart, and mostly believable, if you bought into the tennis team being the height of teenage popularity. Still, I caution readers. You might also get annoyed with the literary superiority of the teens in this book; they’re certainly not average teens…they’re very gifted and try to confound you with their intellectual wittiness, but for smartly confident teen readers or apathetic teens, it might be a definite draw. If you’re easily offended or hate uppity types, do not pick up this book. :) I especially liked how Ezra was figuring himself out, mirroring his perfect golden boy, tennis captain image with his crippled, driven, and genuine self that he becomes while with Cassidy and Toby. Perfect coming-of-age title for readers who like The Great Gatsby and a few other post-modern classics.

 
 

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The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

untitled The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides

A fantastical tale that will especially delight mature elementary and middle grade readers, but also charm any older teens (or adults) who might like a clean adventure fantasy. Definitely a possible read-along but with some mention of romantic attractions.

Former circus trick rider, young Kit Bristol has served as the lone manservant, or only servant really, to a mysterious country gentleman for the last two years, and has gotten used to the quiet simplicity of his new life, even if he still yearns for adventure. In all that time, he’s never once noticed the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack that has everyone in the nearby village upset. When Kit wakes up one night and finds his master lying gravely injured geared up as a highwayman, he knows Whistling Jack’s real identity. As ruffians attempt to break in, Kit dons his master’s clothes to save him and escapes when he finds his master has died, instructed to find a witch and perform one last duty. As he rides his master’s brilliant horse, Midnight, Kit is chased by soldiers and attacked by goblings. After some surprising magic from an unknown source, Kit finds himself safe with the witch and given a quest, to rescue a faerie princess who is being forced to marry King George II. For Kit, who’s only an accidental highwayman, a quest to rescue the princess turns into a lively journey: a dunk in a river, gobling and monster pursuers sent by the princess’s father and the evil Duchess, a soldier captain who’s intent on revenge, a traveling circus complete with senile old man, a monkey and a woman who’s very unlucky in love, two tiny faeries, and one persnickety princess. Though the quest was his master’s, Kit comes to find he cares for the princess and will do anything to help her, even battle a soul-stealing flying Duchess and a tyrannical old father.

I found this a delightful read, if more suited for younger readers. I especially enjoyed the older literary trick of pretending the narrator (Kit) is a real person and has really experienced those things (see much of 18th/17th century literature) and is writing from a historical point-of-view. It blends a little bit of historical fiction and fantasy. Our hero Kit is very likeable and funny but easygoing, while the princess and Lily are moody females, which lends a bit of gender humor to the story though not overdone. Possibly the hardest to understand is the dimensions of Faerie and this world, which contains odd creatures and odd rules that Kit does not bother to describe or make full sense of, lending to his own credibility as our “real” author.

Will be a series, but no forthcoming dates as of yet.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Fantasy, Young Adult/Teen

 

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