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Literature / The Darkest Minds

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Let's carpe the hell out of this diem.

They were never scared of the kids who might die, or the empty spaces they would leave behind. They were afraid of us-the ones who lived.

The Darkest Minds is a dystopian YA trilogy of novels written by Alexandra Bracken. The series consists of:

  • The Darkest Minds
  • Never Fade
  • In the Afterlight
  • Through the Dark (a novella collection)
    • Through the Dark contains three stories: Sparks Rise, In Time, and Beyond the Night. In Time is about Zu and a skip tracer she meets. Sparks Rise is written from the perspective of Ruby's friend Sam and her life at the Thurmond after Ruby escapes. Beyond the Night is also about Sam and set post-In the Afterlight.
  • The Darkest Legacy — an upcoming novel set in the same universe with Zu as the main character.

Nearly all of America’s children have died to a mysterious disease known as IAAN (Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration), and all of the survivors gained strange abilities. The majority of these children were rounded up in government “rehabilitation” camps, which are little more than thinly veiled breeding grounds for child abuse, including Ruby Daly. Ruby is an Orange, meaning she can control the minds of others, but she knows that this will make her a target, so she disguises herself as a super-intelligent Green.


While Ruby is stuck in Thurmond, the most infamous of these camps, America grows increasingly isolationist and the economy collapses. The only way for anyone to make any decent amount of money is by turning in a kid who managed to avoid being detected or escape the camp. These hunters are known as skip tracers.

The Film of the Book was released August 3, 2018.

The series as a whole provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: To get to the Children's League's HQ, you have to walk four blocks through a former sewer, which is big enough for two people to walk side by side.
  • Abusive Parents: Jude's father, and Cole and Liam's biological father.
    • Clancy's father approved scientific experiments on Clancy which his mother had some involvement in. Clancy perceives his mother's attempts to "cure" him as a continuation of this abuse.
  • After the End: The first book picks up several years after the initial spread of IAAN, and there are only a few short references and flashbacks to the time before.
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  • Blessed with Suck: Sure, Ruby can erase and manipulate other people's minds and memories, but it comes with brutal headaches (and occasional fainting), being considered especially dangerous even amongst her own kind, and the knowledge that she could erase anyone's memories of her by accident, including people she cares about. It turns out this is exactly what she did to Sam and her parents.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Ruby often selectively wipes people's memories or looks through their minds for information once she starts working with the Children's League, and considers it justifiable even when she feels guilty about it.
    • Ruby justifies wiping Liam's memories of her because if he remembered falling in love with her, he would stay with the Children's League, and she didn't want him to be trapped with her. Unsurprisingly, he is not happy with her when he finds out what happened.
    • At the end of the third book, she selectively wipes all of Clancy's memories of being a telepath, along with being in the camps at all. She tells herself it's not an act of vengeance but mercy; he was so warped by his experiences that he was never going to stop otherwise.
  • Break the Cutie: Every single kid, even if they weren't in a camp, has some form of immense trauma.
  • Childless Dystopia: Nearly childless, and those who lived developed strange powers.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The psi children. See Differently Powered Individual below.
  • Colourful Theme Naming: See Red Is Violent below.
  • Conscription: Every able-bodied man and woman between the ages of 22 and 40 can be drafted into the military without warning or recourse. This is depicted in a unique manner; most people are ecstatic to be drafted, as it's a source of free food and shelter while the country is in an ongoing depression. However, most of the professional military is enraged by the method; it's being used as a substitute for welfare. New soldiers aren't put through boot camp for training and conditioning, they're just certified as "can carry a gun and run a few dozen meters without puking, is willing to shoot rioters for food", handed guns and uniforms, then sent out to screw the country up even more. This is actually the key element of the civil war between the "official" government and the Children's League; they hate the psi kids as much as the federal government does, and would not have rebelled if their ranks had not been filled with substandard thugs.
  • Crapsack World: Nearly all of America's children are dead, the economy has collapsed, the country is on lockdown because no other country wants whatever virus or illness that wiped out an entire generation, and the only thing that pays is capturing runaway children and turning them over to be tortured by the government.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Of Young Adult fiction in general; the totalitarian government policies that persecute teenagers beyond any sane response are due to Clancy Gray — President Evil's son — manifesting telepathic abilities and mind controlling him into passing them... because he was an Abusive Parent whose Mind Was a Terrible Thing to Read. The entire conflict is because all children learn how to be adults from their parents, and though children can choose to be better than those who abused them, those who raise them bear a lot of responsibility for turning them into cynical and paranoid outcasts. The Dénouement of the third book is Ruby calling every adult out for the years of abuse, admitting that though some psis have abused their abilities, adults have abused their wealth, influence and strength to do the same and more; an accord has to be reached, but the adults will have to bear the brunt of it.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Psi. They're categorized by colour:
  • Grass Is Greener: Many wandering children idolize the idea of East River and the Slip Kid, a refuge of safety for psi children in a world where they're all either in camps or running for their lives. It turns out that East River is pretty great — until its leader decides it's no longer useful to run it.
  • Fantastic Racism: The majority of adults fear and hate the psi children. Please note that all surviving children are psi, so there's actually a law against getting pregnant unless the government gets the baby at birth.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Alexandra Bracken has gone on record to say she rewrote several parts of The Darkest Legacy in order to avoid unintentionally reflecting the events of the 2016 election.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Unlike many similar stories, the characters start with zero comprehension of their abilities; the government figured out that psis can be easily disabled by certain sound frequencies, and blasted the camps with them every time anyone tried to use their powers. When Ruby goes on the run is the first time she's ever made an attempt, and the other kids aren't much better.
  • Kids Versus Adults: One of the most brutal examples ever seen in fiction, and fully explored. Adults' unwillingness to acknowledge — let alone confront — the abuse of children has completely destroyed any semblance of trust, and the short-sightedness of children without the guidance of trustworthy adults has created countless Teenage Wastelands. The conflict has destroyed the United States, as with no generation to pass anything onto, there is no future to plan for, so no-one is thinking beyond the next meal. There's even a total break between the Children's League and the psis in the third book; the few soldiers who weren't fragging the psis assigned to them refused to acknowledge that their comrades were doing so.
  • Kryptonite Factor: "Calm Control". The government figured out that psis are susceptible to certain non-audible frequencies pretty quick, and made good use of this knowledge. As the first book begins, they've figured out ones that attack specific colors. Free Greens have, in turn, figured out how to embed undetectable messages in radio broadcasts on these same frequencies.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Clancy. Very much so.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: A big part of the Crapsack World is that international banking institutions chose to call in all US debts in response to the plague, knowing the US couldn't pay them quickly during a nationwide public heath crisis. The dollar became worthless, everyone who owed money to the US made out like bandits, and America was reduced to a failed state. Basically a retread of post-WWI Germany.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Ruby is destroyed with guilt and grief after she accidentally erases her parent's memories of her.
    • Many adults are overwhelmed with self-hatred at having let the government take their children away, but believe they can do nothing about it; the government has all the weapons, soldiers and money, and can kill anyone with no consequence, not just psis.
    “These are terrible times, and you’re right not to trust any of us. What we’ve done… what we allowed them to do to you, it’s a shameful thing. A shameful, shameful thing, and we’ll go to our graves knowing it. But I want you to know that for every person who would turn in a kid out of fear or for funds, there are hundreds and thousands more who fought tooth and nail to keep their families together.”
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The technology level seems approximately the same as it was the year the first book was published. The actual year the story is set during is never stated.
  • Nonindicative Name: The Children's League opposes the government, and makes a pretty damned good show of the civil war because though Gray and his cronies have all the resources, they have most of the trained career soldiers in their ranks in protest to the universal draft. However, pretty much all of them hate the psis almost as much as the government does, but is willing to use them for momentary advantage. A significant number of them eagerly sacrifice kids in Uriah Gambits or just kill them out of hand after one too many combat-induced breakdowns. One actually attempts to turn Ruby in for the bounty.
  • Oppressive States of America: The USA has fallen into economic crisis and nearly everyone is either drafted into the military or unemployed. The country is split into two governments — the Children's League in the west and the federal government in the east — and pretty much everywhere there's a lack of basic public services, food, and other essentials.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: The government. President Gray's ridiculously stupid policies have turned America into a failed state.
    1. As every child is either dead or psi, imprisoning the psis has created a Childless Dystopia with no real future.
    2. Skip tracers turning in other people's kids and/or pregnancies for reward money has made Chronic Backstabbing Disorder so prevalent that what's left of society is more casually cruel and violent than a Quentin Tarantino flick; everyone who's not a rat is terrified that those around them could be.
    3. Years of martial law confiscating all money and resources for government use have annihilated the economy; nobody has money except politicians and skip chasers, with most of the population surviving on subsistence farming.
    4. The universal draft has driven most of his career soldiers to rebel out of disgust at their ranks being filled with untrained and/or unconditioned men and women with guns and uniforms, sent out to make an utter mess of the country. They actually hate and fear the psis as much as the rest of the country, so if Gray hadn't instituted the draft, almost all of them would be obedient supporters of his regime.
  • Police Brutality: The PSFs pretty much have free reign to do whatever they want to the psi. Ruby mentions an instance where a girl at Thurmond was beaten so badly that one of her eyes popped out of her head.
  • Police State: Every adult between the age of 22 and 40 is in the military, and the force is overwhelming and everywhere.
  • President for Life: After the outbreak of IAAN, President Gray indefinitely extended his term in office.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Ruby recalls several instances of other Oranges making PSFs commit suicide or kill each other at Thurmond.
  • Rainbow Motif: See Colour-Coded for Your Convenience and Differently Powered Individual above.
  • Red Is Violent: Psi classified as Red are initially considered the most dangerous. Eventually the government realizes that at least Reds can be trained, while Oranges can't be contained at all, so while trainable Reds are eventually used in a strike program, Oranges are killed upon identification.
    • Ruby's full name is Ruby Elizabeth Daly, and the two other named Oranges in the series, Martinnote  and Clancy,note  both have names relating to the color red. This was intentional, as their abilities should've been considered the most dangerous and classified as such.
  • Scavenger World: The economy has almost completely collapsed, and most people we see get food and other essentials by robbing stores or growing it themselves.
  • Spiritual Successor: To David Cronenberg's Scanners.
    1. The agony of Power Incontinence has escalated into all-out How Do I Shot Web? because because none of the adults want the kids to know how to use their powers, to the point of torturing them if they make any attempts and killing those they can't torture into submission.
    2. The Generation Gap has been updated; where Scanners examined the conflict between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, here the boomers are presented with their successors, the mentally atypical millennials. Neither side understands what the other needs or wants, and the conflict between Dr. Ruth and his children has been escalated to full-blown Kids Versus Adults genocidal warfare that has turned the US into a failed state.
    3. Even the origins of the powers are related: where the Scanners were created by a treatment for morning sickness, the psis were created by water tampering. That's an escalation as well; the war generation thought that they could use technology to solve all their problems without bothering to understand either the technology or the problem, and the Boomers believed they could solve a problem that hadn't even occurred yet.
    4. It's actually a pretty good adaptation of Cronenberg's original "Telepathy 2000" project, where there was supposed to be entire populations of Scanners and an ongoing struggle between them and normals.
  • State Sec: The Psi Special Forces officers, or PSFs.
  • Superpower Russian Roulette: Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN) is a particularly nasty one. It expresses at puberty, and is 98% lethal, but the remaining 2% develop psi abilities. On top of that, the abilities are not equal; The majority are super-intelligent Greens, and most of the remainder are telekinetic Blues or electrokinetic Yellows. The rarest are the telepathic Oranges and pyrokinetic Reds - especially since the government couldn't figure out a way to control Oranges, so they killed them all and buried them in mass graves. Turns out it's also a Bizarre Baby Boom: a decade earlier, the government added to the existing cocktail of water treatments a chemical they called "Agent Ambrosia", meant to counteract and nullify a number of poisons, bacteria, and drugs. However, despite extensive testing, it turned out to have a teratogenic effect that only expressed at puberty, whereupon kids either develop psi or die.
  • Super Registration Act: Every psi child who has been in a camp is registered, and many were registered by their parents before they fully grasped what was being done with the information. It's mentioned that there is now a birth registry for all children, and that said children are taken away as soon as they're born and parents who attempt to circumvent the registry are arrested because the government is fully aware that IAAN is caused by a teratogenic agent in the water supply and every one will either develop psi abilities at puberty or die.
  • Unfriendly Fire: The Children's League doesn't like working with psis any more than most of the country, but bites the bullet and does so because they're useful resources to counter the government's dominance. However, they tend to put the lives of other trained adult soldiers above those of psis; attrition is higher for psis than for normals. Hell, some soldiers get so pissed off at psis not being able to physically keep up they just execute them and blame it on the government.

The darkest minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.

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