The book started off interestingly enough. The premise is that the whole of America has been subjected to a plague that has killed the majority of children between the ages of ten and seventeen. The ones who remain have developed psychic powers that the adults in charge are terrified of and would seek to control/experiment on/exterminate.
Unfortunately, once Ruby breaks out of the prison camp she has been living in for the last six years she just goes on a very long road trip during which nothing really seems to happen. The plot, which had so much potential, seemed to fizzle and die a little and I spent a lot of the book waiting for it to get interesting again.
When it became obvious that I wasn't enjoying this book, I began to look for reasons why. After all, if dozens of people I know adored this book and I didn't ... Well, maybe it was me. I wondered what it was that I wasn't 'getting' about this book that had everyone else raving about it.
At first, I considered that maybe it's because I'm a Brit. Maybe there's something in this book that's so inherently American that the full impact will always be lost on outsiders. I couldn't see what it would be, but then I wouldn't be able to, would I?
Then I started wondering if the whole book was an allegory or a metaphor for something. I toyed with the idea of the Psi kids being a parallel for America's struggle to break away from Britain back in the War of Independence. That whole group of individuals looking to live their own lives away from their oppressors. But I couldn't really see enough to draw parallels there, so I let that theory go.
Then I thought maybe the story was an allegory for the oppression of the Jews in World War II. I felt on more solid ground with this. There was the whole prison camp thing, rounding up of "undesirables" and locking them away, experiments on the Psi kids in the camps, the Psi Special Forces soldiers all dressed in black like the SS, the way the president came to power and then started changing all the rules in order to keep himself powerful ... Yeah, there seemed to be a lot of parallels.
Then I realised ... I didn't matter. It didn't matter if the story was an allegory or a metaphor or some nationalistic rhetoric. I wasn't enjoying it. It wasn't gripping me the way an awesome book should.
I contemplated DNF-ing, but in the end I didn't. I guess I just wanted to keep reading in the hope that soon it would just 'click' and I'd suddenly get what everyone else had been raving about. Sadly it didn't happen.
The writing was fine. It was fine. It didn't blow me away but it didn't annoy me either.
I never really connected with Ruby, and I think definitely didn't help my view of the book, especially as it's written in the first person. I never really got a sense of who she was, what her passions were, how she would react in a certain situation. I get that she'd been incarcerated in a prison camp for six years, and that's bound to put a bit of a crimp in your personal skills, but I found her too nothingy to care about.
Liam seemed like a nice enough boy, but again I didn't really connect with him or buy into Ruby's crush/love for him. Plus, he was like the King of Moving Slowly when it came to romance. He and Ruby obviously had the itch for each other, but neither of them bloody did anything about it. There was just loads of hand-holding and brushing up against each other (and not even in an amusing way, like, 'We were doing the washing up, and he brushed up against me and he had a BONER!') It was very, very tame considering how much they liked each other. Guys, I'm gonna put myself out there: when it comes to YA romance, I want lips, tongues and teeth, I want panting, I want racing hearts, I want boobs and possibly even sex. Spoiler Alert - this book had none of those things.
Chubs and Zu were sweet enough characters, but they were secondary and therefore not enough to make me want to keep reading.
As for the bad guys - they were just slimy. I didn't feel horrified at the things they did. Even when one of them mind-controls Ruby and assaults her, he just came off as a creepy, hormonal teenage horndog instead of a wannabe rapist. Even the PSF soldiers and the prison camps didn't feel very horrific. I wrote my bachelors dissertation on the Holocaust, so I know something about terrifying death camps, and the prison camps in The Darkest Minds just weren't that scary.
Also, there were things that were left unexplained that I really wanted to know and that I thought would have helped my enjoyment of the book. It's hinted that America is the only country that the plague happened to. Why? Does this get explained later?
Now this is going to sound weird, but despite me just spending a lot of time trashing this book, I would still recommend it to people. I'm completely aware that I'm in the minority here. I'm not joking when I say that dozens of people I know have rated this as one of their favourite series of all time. Of all time! They love this book. So on the basis that the majority rules, I would still say to anyone reading this to try the series out for themselves instead of just going by my opinion.
One thing I would say, and that was the book definitely picked up in the last two chapters. And no, I'm not being sarcastic. The final couple of scenes were genuinely moving and I was touched at the sacrifice Ruby made despite not having connected with any of the characters so far in the book.
Sadly, by this point, it was too late. If the books were a bit shorter, I might consider carrying on with the series, but at nearly 500 pages and a two-week reading commitment, I really don't think it's going to be on the cards.