Hi friends; happy Wednesday!
Like many readers across the world, when posed with the question “What is your favorite book?,” I feel like a deer in headlights. I either want to name every fantastic book I’ve ever read, or I suddenly forget that I’ve ever read books in the first place. When I somehow manage to give an answer though, I have my—let’s call them—routine titles. These are the stories that won over my heart with seemingly no effort; I fell in love with the writing style, the characters, the plot, and the entire story; there is no hesitation in mentioning these books. And, 11 times out of 10, if I’m asked What is your favorite series?, I will say The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. No question about it.
As a blogger, and as a general human being, I can talk around my favorite things—never really pointing to the why; I can tell you what my favorite series is, but I usually grapple with collecting all of my thoughts
(which is essentially just a very long keyboard slam of emotions) and forming intelligible, real words. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve essentially answered “Why do you like this series so much?” with a “I just do!“
But, I’ve since reread the last book of the series (In The Afterlight) along with the continuation novel (The Darkest Legacy), and my heart is overflowing with the amount of love I’m feeling towards these fictional characters and their lives—the love I’ve felt ever since I finished the first book back in 2015. And, if I don’t share exactly why I love this series as much as I do, I very well may explode.
Before I ramble any more (because, trust me, I already ramble enough in this post), let’s get on to why the Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken is my favorite all-time series.
*please note: I will be talking about The Darkest Minds, Never Fade, In The Afterlight, Through the Dark, and The Darkest Legacy in a general manner. Endings may be touched on, spoilers may be spoiled. Read at your own risk!*
A brief synopsis of the first book, to give you a general idea of the plot: Ultimately, a disease runs rampant among children, killing most American kids. And, if you survive, you develop powers. Our main character, Ruby, becomes one of the dangerous ones. Spending 6 years of her life in a “rehabilitation camp” to “cure” her, Ruby manages to escape and starts living her life on the run—where she ends up meeting some pretty fantastic, and not-so-fantastic, people.
The character development is unmatched.
‘It’s painful because we care. Don’t ever stop caring. Don’t let anyone make you cold. You are already the strongest person I know.’
The Darkest Legacy, page 467
If given the chance, I could easily gush about these characters and the ways in which they grow into themselves for hours on end. Their development and arcs are nothing short of absolutely stunning. Let’s look at Ruby as an example.
Ruby Elizabeth Daly. We first meet Ruby as she’s quickly forced to learned about a disease sweeping through the nation, swiping out entire populations of children. As a survivor, she’s then transported to the equivalent of a concentration camp: Thurmond. Here, Ruby is working from day to night in fear of her life, and being hurt and abused if she doesn’t comply. Here’s where things get even stickier: Ruby is a classified Orange—she can toy around with other peoples’ minds. Because of this dangerous power, Ruby must hide and trick others into thinking she’s a Green, a super genius; she is forced to live in this fear, terrified of her own shadow, for six years. In these six years, Ruby is groomed to believe she’s a monstrosity; that her power is repulsive and inherently evil.
As we journey with Ruby along the course of three books and a continuation novel, we end with a completely different person, in the most beautiful way possible. Through the horrid experiences that follow her soon after her Thurmond escape to the people she meets and has to leave behind, Ruby becomes a confident leader. She soon feels comfortable in Ops; she volunteers herself to go out on missions; she learns control of her power and uses it for good, to help herself and those that she cares about. She’s no longer afraid of her shadow, but moving so fast that her shadow has trouble keeping up.
Ruby’s self-discovery and her confidence growth is beyond inspiring. I mean the girl is quite literally going through The Worst and coming out of it better than anyone could have expected. And, perhaps even more importantly, her character growth isn’t linear; Ruby has setbacks and goes through experiences that make her take a step back; she suffers from anxiety and PTSD, which understandably affects her ability to keep moving forward. But she never lets that stop her. She takes a deep breath, she allows herself to feel those feelings, and she perseveres when she’s ready for it.
While Ruby is the main character in the original three novels, she’s not the only one to undergo a dramatic development. Suzume Kimura, the youngest character we meet in the first novel, has a similar arc. Zu is mute by choice when we first meet her, unable to process what happened to her and verbally talk about it. As a quiet observer, Zu studies everything and takes it all in. She internalizes her friends’ actions, their lessons learned, and she becomes better for it. By the time we watch Zu grow up and catch up with her as the main character in The Darkest Legacy, she’s not the same person we met
(but that is a different story, and I have far too many words to say about Zu’s growth to keep it all in this one post).
Characters are realistically flawed.
‘Try to imagine where we’d be without you, darlin’.’ he said, quietly, ‘and then maybe you’ll see just how lucky we got.’
The Darkest Minds, page 310
Nobody wants to read about a perfect character; perfect characters aren’t realistic.
Sure, “chosen one” stories are fantastic, but I want a hero that doesn’t know what they’re doing. I want a protagonist that makes mistakes. I want a main character that wants to give up sometimes. If I’m reading a story about a hero and that hero always knows what to do, when to do it, and how, I’m immediately lost. In no world is that ever realistic.
Every single character in the Darkest Minds series makes mistakes. Ruby makes the wrong call during a mission. Liam pulls an idiotic prank that only he found funny. Chubs is stubborn to a fault, and sometimes lets that dictate his friendships. Zu doesn’t trust herself, even though she should. Vida doesn’t trust others, even though she should. Jude is too kind and trusting, which backfires. Nico will do anything to feel like he belongs. Cole hides his true self out of fear of judgement. Priyanka guards herself and her feelings from ever getting burned again. Roman cares too much for others, and makes life-altering choices based on that. And they all genuinely argue with each other just about every single chance they get (when some of them aren’t busy building shelves, of course)
(if you know, you know).
All of the mistakes each of these characters make help form and shape them to who they end up being by the end of the books. Their mistakes and their missteps become the foundation for the strong, confident, and proud leaders they each are; there’s something so beautiful in illustrating that the mistakes can be just as beneficial the successes.
The banter between the characters is next level.
‘She would drive a saint to murder. Like, ten-stab-wounds-to-the-torso murder.’
‘Good thing you’re not a saint.’
Never Fade, page 290
The dialogue between these fictional people whom have taken control of my whole heart is absolutely UNREAL. I mean, these characters are quite literally in the fight of their lives. They’re in life-or-death car chases; they’re on the run, always looking over their shoulders; they’re forced to scour for food and siphon gas just to get to the next place to safely park their beat up stolen mini-van (we love you Black Betty, forever and always).
Long story short, suffice it to say, they’re not exactly “living their best lives.” But, despite all of that, there is always some room from some sass and sarcasm. Vida is always ragging on Chubs: he’s too much of a grandma, he drives too slowly, he reads too many books. Liam and Cole, as brothers do, are always at it: who’s the better brother? who’s more capable of leading the next Op? Did I even mention that Chubs hated Ruby when he first met her?
If I haven’t said it enough already, these characters are fighting for their lives every single day. To be able to find the humor among the pain, among the terrible, that’s something incredible.
It’s pretty difficult to sum up why exactly I love their banter as much as I do in my own words, so I figured an example in Alexandra Bracken’s words would be better than anything I could come up with:
There is no such thing as secondary characters.
‘Who do we like then?’ I pressed.
‘We like us,’ Liam said after a while. ‘And. that’s about it.’
The Darkest Minds, page 212
With three books, a collection of novellas, and a continuation novel, there are obviously going to be a plethora of characters that show up and are not considered “main characters.” But here’s where my argument comes in—there is no such thing as secondary characters in this series. None whatsoever.
Sure, these characters that make appearances in a book or two aren’t at the forefront as much as the other characters we’re following, but they’re still at the forefront of my mind: that’s how big of an impact they make. Every single character has a purpose and was written in this story for a reason.
If I’ve ever gotten into a discussion about the Darkest Minds, getting into the nitty gritty of it, I have most definitely brought up Jude.
We meet Jude in Never Fade, as Ruby is taken in by the Children’s League and starts training with other kids there. Jude is a part of her team from the very beginning with the League. He’s deemed himself as the “one-kid welcoming committee” when anyone from his team returns from a dangerous Op. He’s going to tell you a full story and prompt questions before ever noticing his surroundings
(like the fact that the people he’s talking to are locked in a literal cage). Essentially, Jude is an absolute ray of sunshine—a true sunflower child. Jude then is almost promoted as he helps elevate Ruby in her journey of self-acceptance. He helps her understand that some things have to happen so other, better things can happen. By the end of it, Jude is not a secondary character; he helped drive the plot, and he never felt like a temporary fixture in the story.
The same can be said for any of the kids that Liam, Ruby, Chubs, Zu, Vida, Nico, Roman, and Pri come into contact with. Some of these characters live on only a handful of pages before making a comeback later on to push the plot forward. But they aren’t written as “throwaway” characters; they’re not in the background.
The plot lines are nearly mirrors to today’s world.
‘I think, at its heart, life is good. It doesn’t throw anything at us that it knows we can’t handle—and, even if it takes its time, it turns everything right side up again.’
In the Afterlight, page 410
At first glance, this series is about kids trying to deal with the terror that is their apocolyptic-esqe world. At second glance, this is a story about passionate future leaders being smothered under their current government. This is a story about a group of people being segregated from others, out of fear. This is a story about viewing that group of people differently, and being terrified of what they’re capable of. This is a story about human beings treating other human beings like literal garbage because of a difference they have no control over. Starting to sound familiar?
In my opinion, some of the most beautiful and breathtaking fictional stories are those that get us thinking about our own worlds: how we can change it and shape it into something a little bit better. Sure, there aren’t any traditional super humans in our world today that can pick up a car with their mind or ignite a flame with their fingertips, but isn’t this exactly what we’re seeing in our very real world, especially in 2020?
Time and time again, these characters are cast aside as insignificant or not strong enough, only coming back to prove those naysayers wrong.
The Darkest Minds is an everlasting story about characters that persevere, even in the face of darkness. There are barriers and obstacles that serve as a driving force, not a stopping point. And that, my friends, is certainly a lesson we should incorporate into our world.
Nearly 2,500+ words later, and we’ve finally arrived to the end!
If it isn’t already obvious enough, I could continue talking about this series and these characters as if my life depended on it. I will forever hold this series and these characters close to my heart. 2,500 words and I still don’t feel as if I’ve done the series justice.
But, in true Black Betty Crew style, it only seems fitting to supply the music that helped fuel me as I wrote this post; which is of course, the one and only, Black Betty Driving Playlist created by the amazing Alexandra Bracken herself. Give it a listen and try not imagine spending your days driving in a stolen mini-van with a know-it-all, a walking hug, a quietly strong girl, and a girl who’s just discovering her strength. Let yourself feel all the feels.