Monday, September 10, 2018

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

This book is called THE DARKEST MINDS but it could just as well be called THE X-HUNGERVERGENT GAMES, seeing as how it's a snapshot of everything that was trending in 2012. Set in the ambiguous "near-future," an idiopathic degenerative virus (idiopathic being medical jargon for "fuck if I know") has killed most of the United States' children. The ones who survive get neat, psychic powers. Rather than doing anything useful with these powers - which come in five forms: telekinesis, super-intelligence, fire-starting, electrical manipulation, and mind control/reading - the government says, "Hey, let's create a whole bunch of concentration camps to send the kids to! Only we'll call them rehabilitation camps and we'll tell the parents that we're fixing the kids. BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, THAT WORKED SO WELL BEFORE, HISTORICALLY." So the kids must fight for their lives against this fascist, Nazi-like government. And apparently all of the parents in this book are as dickish as the PSF ("Psi Special Forces"), or the government agents in this book, because nobody protests or marches against this. They're just like, "Yeah, fuck kids! Take mine too!"


Ruby, our heroine, has been stuck in one of these camps since she was ten. She is now sixteen. Oh, and she's a special-specialton who has one of the most rare and dangerous powers of them all; she is an Orange (e.g. psychic). She had the foresight to trick her doctor into thinking she was one of the harmless super-intelligent kids when she saw that all of the Reds, Oranges, and Yellows were being sent away, but that is literally the only smart thing she does in the book. From that point on, it's stupid decision after stupid decision. She's also a coward, and a firm follower of the three Ws: whiny, wimpy, and wussy. Want a heroine who bemoans what a monster she is and stands frozen in fear when forced to make any sorts of tough decisions? LMAO, no? Too bad. Her sole quality, apart from her special and rare powers, is her hotness (which she doesn't even know she has), and which you will be reminded of repeatedly from all male characters, usually in uncomfortable and rapey ways.

The rest of the cast is as by the numbers as the tropes of the plot. There's token ethnic girl with stupid nickname (because taking the time to learn to pronounce someone's ethnic name is so un-American) whose sole job is to look cute. There's token Good Guy Greg love interest who falls into insta-love with the heroine's lack of personality and advocates for her without any sort of basis (oh wait, she's hot). There's sidekick lackey with vaguely sexual nickname whose sole purpose is the laughs. And then there's the Red Herring Villain, the one who might as well have a neon sign that says EVIL, DO NOT TRUST, but everyone trusts him and of course he's much hotter than the Good Guy Greg love interest, because beautiful heroines need at least two love interests and the fans need a villain to write bad fanfiction about that they can later republish into a best-selling contemporary romance about sports or college love or some shit.

What annoyed me the most about this book was the wasted potential. It's readable in a way that DIVERGENT was not and the first couple chapters were decent. What bogs this book down is the tedious main character and the fact that nothing really happens. Honestly, I think that's why the movie bombed. If you shave out all of the introspective whining, this book is mostly Ruby walking or driving around and talking to people. Cut out the middle, and the end of the book literally takes off right where the beginning of the book ended, with no character development. We also don't know much more about their powers. As far as I recall, most of their abilities are not explicitly defined in this book - I had to look at some of the reviews for this book to figure out which did what. (Orange? Yellow? Red? Please tell me someone ironically picked Lorde's Yellow Flicker Beat as a soundtrack to this movie so I can laugh my ass off.) Also, major plotholes virtually everywhere you look. Why is this disease only affecting Americans, and specifically, American children? Why aren't the other countries that the United States has a history of being a douche to seizing the advantage and invading or overpowering the nation? So they put up quarantine blockades. Big freaking whoop. Also, the name of the book itself is pretty stupid because brains light up when they're active, so if anything these kids should have the brightest minds (and speaking of bright minds, what the hell is up with these stupid doctors who get tricked by kids at the drop of a hat and fail to produce any sorts of results with medical testing? Get a CAT scan. Take a blood test. Do an EKG. If kids were dying, you can bet that people would be pouring money into funding to stop the progress of the disease - and I highly doubt society would collectively shrug its shoulders and say, "Yeah, take away our kids to be imprisoned, tortured, and executed," psychic symptoms or no. And do you really expect that a teenager was the only person in the country who saw the potential uses of kids with super powers? REALLY?

I'm honestly not sure why this book is as popular as it is. The writing is not great and the plot is not particularly original. It has an okay premise, but STEELHEART and BURN FOR ME by Brandon Sanderson and Ilona Andrews have very similar concepts, and they did it much better. I guess the color-by-sorting hat premise will appeal to teens, who like defining themselves with neat little labels, but Divergent and Harry Potter beat Alexandra Bracken to that, with much success. HUNGER GAMES has more action and better fight scenes, with a kick-ass heroine to boot, and even though both have Amandla Stenberg stealing scenes like the BAMF she is, Hunger Games accords her so much more dignity than The Darkest Minds (which made me want to cringe just by watching the trailer alone, after seeing the mid-2000s special "eye" effects & the Michael Bay-esque explosions). YA Dystopians are so five years ago, and I'm honestly surprised that the people behind the movie didn't learn their lesson from Allegiant's ironically bleak and dystopic fate at the box office.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

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