It’s been a while since I read The Darkest Minds series, which holds a special place in my heart, and now that the movie’s been out for a year (and I still haven’t seen it, not that I’ve heard…great things?), I figure it’s time to celebrate with a string of reviews!
Reviews, but MINI, which I have not done before. Should be exciting! And let’s say…I have 300 words per book. Make it extra mini compared to my usual 800+ word reviews.
Nothing gets me excited like a challenge, even a self-imposed one. So let’s hop to it!
The Darkest Minds
“‘Maybe nothing will ever change for us,’ he said. ‘But don’t you want to be around just in case it does?'”
CW: concentration camps, child abuse, child death, graphic injury, suicide, gun violence, loss of a loved one
The Darkest Minds feels uncomfortably real on this reread, what with it centering around children in concentration camps. It was written seven years ago, yet here we are with a similar situation on our hands, minus the psychic powers, and I can’t help but feel a deep, furious frustration that reality is so close to dystopian YA.
That said, I still love this book. It isn’t perfect (and I can see why some folks get frustrated with it: in lots of ways, TDM is a travel book, following Ruby and the rest of the Black Betty crew as they trek through Virginia in search of safety), but it has a lot of things I love. Ruby is a reluctant hero, afraid of what she can do, and that fear feels like such a real response to me. Liam is a cinnamon roll sort of LI, the kind I’d love to see more of in YA, always ready to help someone else even at the cost of his own safety. Chubs is brilliant and snarky, and the slow shift in his friendship with Ruby warms my heart; they make a good team, even if Chubs doesn’t always want to admit it. And Zu is near and dear to me and the Black Betty crew, the glue that keeps them all together, and really just an eleven-year-old girl who shouldn’t have to live this way.
Toss in an antagonist you love to hate (Clancy Gray makes me FURIOUS tbh), teens taking hold of their own lives despite the odds, and a plot that really does take three books to unfurl, and I’m reminded why I love TDM and the series as a whole.
“We were not just going to disappear.”
CW: violence (including gun violence), loss of a loved one, domestic abuse, graphic injury
One of the things I think Never Fade manages to do best is make Ruby more proactive. Even in the hands of the Children’s League, which limits the actions she can take, she keeps taking hold of what few opportunities she has, always angling for a way to unravel what the government has done to her and other Psi kids. She’s still scared, and there are still occasions where she cracks (which is realistic as all hell, because the things that happen to her are traumatic, putting it lightly), but she’s no longer shying away from her powers as an Orange. She’s even grappling with the responsibility and ethics of being able to enter and alter someone’s mind, and though it constantly makes her internally conflicted, I like that far better than a character who uses their powers without question. Basically, Never Fade improves on forward motion, which is so important.
Another bonus was the strengthening of Ruby’s relationships. Her interactions with Chubs bring me so much joy, and the the way she and Vida begin to make a real team is one of my favorite sharper relationships. And of course, Ruby and Jude give my heart all kinds of feelings. AND I still love Ruby and Liam, especially because they get to fight with one another, be angry and scared and frustrated. Neither one is perfect, but that actually sits better with me than either a perfect relationship or one that offers no happiness at all.
Combine all this with an ending that’s one of the few to actually make me cry, and I think Never Fade is one of the better second-in-the-series books out there.
In the Afterlight
“It rained the day they brought us to Thurmond.
And it rained the day I walked out.”
CW: violence (including gun violence), concentration camps, domestic abuse, invasive medical scenes, loss of a loved one, graphic injury
It’s a bummer to say that I don’t think In the Afterlight is quite as good as Never Fade, but thankfully it’s not by a huge margin. Mostly, the lower rating comes down to the initial pacing. It’s slower than I would have liked in the conclusion to the trilogy during the first half, taking too much time to set up the rebellion we’ve been waiting for the whole series.
That said, the second half delivers, and the final fifty pages never fails to bring tears to my eyes. In some ways, it’s a little corny, the idea of the best of people winning out, but I can’t help being a sucker for endings that insist doing the right thing will bring about the change the world needs.
On top of an ending that hits all the notes I long for in a story, we get a ship I love (THE BANTER! THE SNARK! THE SHEER LEVEL OF COMPETENCE BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM!), we get Zu stepping up and taking charge of her story, and we get Ruby finally getting the resolution she’s needed since she was ripped away from her normal, loving life on her tenth birthday. It’s an ending, not something too open and hazy, and it pulls the Black Betty Crew together again, with some new additions that I love.
I will say, though, that there was one element I didn’t love, and while I feel that it’s not unexpected in a book from 2014, that doesn’t make me any happier about the fact that the only queer character we get is the tragic gay who loves the villain who will never love him back. That detail remains deeply disappointing.
Through the Dark
“Monsters save themselves.”
CW: suicide, car crash, graphic injury, animal death, violence (including gun violence), concentration camps, sexual assault, loss of a loved one, human trafficking
After spending almost 1.5k pages in Ruby Daly’s head, it is nice to get out and breathe somewhere else in this world. The three novellas in Through the Dark (In Time, Sparks Rise, and Beyond the Night) focus on Gabe, Sam, and Mia respectively, though the second two are far more intertwined with each other.
In Time fills in some of the blanks of Zu’s story by way of Gabe, the wanna-be skip tracer who has a change of heart when he realizes the truth of the matter. I find it hard to like Gabe, but appreciate that he actually did do the right thing in the end, not to mention I liked seeing Zu able to survive even without the Black Betty crew to protect her. It’s comforting to know she’s strong even if she doesn’t have them immediately at hand to back her up. Plus, Zu is so sharp and opinionated and brilliant, and I love her to pieces.
Sparks Rise takes us back to Thurmond, back to Sam, the girl whose memory Ruby accidentally erased. It’s not necessarily a comfort to know that the time Ruby spent free from Thurmond was still time where Thurmond was getting worse, but coming back to familiar faces and seeing that those faces have lives and connections and traumas that have changed them beyond what Ruby actually knows of is good storytelling.
Finally, Beyond the Night wraps up Sam and Lucas’s story, pulling in Mia, Lucas’s little sister, and seeing them all through to an ending of their own. The Black Betty crew makes an appearance, but it’s mainly a story about how the world is and isn’t changing now that the camps have been exposed. It shows that the situation isn’t perfectly resolved, that some changes still have to be fought for, and that there are still people in the system. Things may look good on paper, but there’s work to be done to do right by the kids who’ve suffered.
WHEW. That went by much faster than I thought it would, but what do you think? Have I convinced you to read TDM in 300 words (and a hair more with TTD…) a book, or is this something you’ll still pass on? And because I’m a sucker for feedback, do you like mini reviews or full reviews more? Let’s chat!