An intensely fantastic dystopian adventure that I feverishly devoured!
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
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.
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.
the 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.