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A new young adult series with a diverse cast -The Asian Age


I was actually skeptical of the movie. To say it any another way would be less truthful. You may ask me: Why? Well, ever since Harry Potter and Twilight there has been a slew of young adult novels that are vying to break into the market. When Harry Potter was in publication, in a way it still is with the Fantastic Beasts series and The Cursed Child script, the term "young adult" seems to not have been generated yet.

Harry Potter was considered a "children's" book though J. K. Rowling did mention that she had no prior intention of marketing Harry Potter to children alone. Still, I believe it was the explosion of Twilight that made the term "young adult" stay. Hate it or love it, or be in the middle ground on it, Twilight did help make popular a new wave of literature. What bothered me was that The Darkest Minds book came out in 2012 and now we are getting a movie, whereas Divergent and Maze Runner has gotten their movies.

Though I think only Hunger Games was successful in the movie category. The other two franchises had a hard time continuing with renewed energy to the finish line. This piece will contain graphic violence, abuse of minors and other graphic content so trigger warnings and viewer discretion is advised.

The Darkest Minds is an adaption of the novel of the same name by Alexandra Bracken. It is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and the screenplay is written by Chad Hodge. In a near enough future a disease known as Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegenration (IAAN) becomes an epidemic in the United States killing 90% of children. The surviving children develop psionic powers and the government issues a warning about them.

The children are usually rounded up into concentration camps so that they can be monitored and can be "rehabilitated" or ultimately killed. Only kids 10 years and above become susceptible to IAAN, which makes the disease even more terrible as either your child will die or be taken away to a camp when they start manifesting their powers.

The Darkest Minds first started out as a trilogy. As goodreads users Paige and Petrik stated expertly, the trilogy spells "The Darkest Minds. Never Fade. In the Afterlight."  The first trilogy is focused on Ruby Daly, portrayed by Amandla Stenberg in the movie, famous for portraying Ru in The Hunger Games (her younger 10 year old self is portrayed by Lidya Jewett). Ruby is an Orange one of the rarest and lethal forms of psionic children.

On her 10th birthday it is discovered that she is a child with powers so she is taken away to a camp. For the next six years, she spends her time in the camps. Though it is only later that the camp doctors realize she is an Orange. Most Oranges are killed as they are considered too dangerous to keep around.

Here comes the category of powers: There are the Greens who show super intelligence and eideteker abilities as in they have eidetic memory: super memory, then there are Blues who are telekinetic and are considered a bit dangerous and Golds who are also considered dangerous as they possess electrokinesis as in can manipulate electricity.

They are two rare types: Reds and Oranges. Red are very dangerous as they have pyrokinesis and can generate fire. The Oranges are empaths who with a touch or telepathic range can control or access memories of other people.

While in the camp a frequency is released that hurt Oranges and Ruby gets hurt the most. For the last six years Ruby has been masquerading as a Green until that frequency hit her.

She is about to be killed when Cate  (Mandy Moore) comes and rescues her.  Cate is part of The Children's League, a group that wants to save the children from the camps. Cate also explains that why places seem to be almost empty or almost post-apocalyptic. It seems rural areas have been mostly abandoned as without children there is no sustainable economy and the adults now mostly live and work in big cities.

This is a very interesting world that Bracken has created where the country is not dead but barely alive. I would have wanted to know some more clues on how adults live and maneuver in such a world where having children means they may eventually die or get incarcerated.

How do adults navigate through a world where pro-choice and pro-life no longer have none of the semantic/philosophical meanings as before? Where prophylactics and contraceptives seem to have different meanings and not always positive ones?

There is not much discussion about that in the first book/movie. However, there is an anthology of stories collected called Through The Dark, which is supposed to talk about things not mentioned in the trilogy. There was a new series released this year called The Darkest Legacy. This novel has a secondary character becoming the new protagonist.

I am glad The Darkest Legacy was released as it shows what can happen even if goals have been obtained and the aftermath of all of it. After Ruby is saved by Cate she meets Rob Meadows (Mike O'Brien) who is also part of the Children's League but when she touches him she realizes that the league is not necessarily a safe haven. 

In an abandoned store she meets the young, seemingly mute child called "Zu" or Suzume Kimura (Miya Cech), who is a Gold. With her is Liam Stewart (Harris Dickinson) and Charles "Chubs" (Skylan Brooks). They are running from an infamous Tracer, named Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie). Tracers are adults who hunt psionic kids for bounty. Liam is a Blue and Chubs is a Green so their group is pretty balanced out. Though Ruby lies initially because she worries everyone hates an Orange and she will be ousted if she speaks the truth.

This series is not necessarily as fun as Harry Potter or romanticized as Twilight. Like the Hunger Games it is grim but there is no district who seems to have it best. Anyone's child is susceptible to IAAN and that means the fate of the child is pretty much the same. This brings a perverted form of "equality" into the equation of life but creates seamlessly new forms of inequalities.

Liam does not trust The Children's League as he was being forced to fight for them. He tells a confused Ruby that there is a difference between surviving and being made a soldier for a cause that ultimately may have nothing to do with him. Ruby is confused as Cate was nice to her. As she says that in six years no one has been nice to her. As someone who has trauma perhaps sometimes that is a saving grace. It is hard to understand but Ruby does also later not trust Cate.

The series deals with Ruby understanding the brutal unfairness of the world. In the camp, when she pretended to be a Green, the Greens were being made to do menial labor, such as polishing shoes. It is like any illegal factory that abuses children and it is also incontrovertibly cruel to have children not learn and do tasks such as this.

In one touching scene, they show Chubs teaching Zu mathematics meaning the camps did not treat the children as children but as expendable nobodies. So, they were not teaching the children or providing them with any form of education. The Reds are also used as dispensable soldiers who can cause havoc and mayhem with their flames.

Liam and Ruby start to have a romantic connection, which though seems hurried is also based on the fact that Liam shows interest on Ruby's emotional wellbeing and safety. Ruby is touched by this and also wishes to protect Liam; they both start treating each other as family.

Chubs and Zu are also part of their family who decide to always look out for each other. Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson) is the only other Orange besides Ruby around. Due to their shared abilities, Clancy wishes to have a relationship with Ruby. They meet each other in a safe haven for children where Clancy seems to be the de facto leader.

 The haven also seems to have rules and conditions that Chubs does not find beneficial. Clancy is manipulative of Ruby, which actually had me disturbed, especially, when he says that because he is also an Orange that he can always understand Ruby. The movie and novels heavily challenges this supposition, can they truly? Even if lived experiences are similar and identities do we really treat another as an equal?

This mature question and way of handling in a young adult series had me impressed.  I think this is where the series is broadly different and unique from Twilight, Hunger Games and Harry Potter. It challenges the cliché/trope that lived experiences alone mean an attraction is inevitable and a continuation of that attraction will create undeniable chemistry. It doesn't always work that way as love is a many layered thing.

Ruby's power as an empath is also not feminized as Clancy himself is also an empath and can plant suggestions in people as she can. Ruby does not shy away from using her powers aggressively but she does seem to do so only when needed. She is not a sadist but she is angry and sometimes she does do some questionable actions.

At times, those actions seem like the last thing she can do and as a teen we cannot really judge her as the contexts are such that usual morals may not work. However, there was a scene where Ruby becomes really cold to a Tracer and does not reflect on what she has done. She seems to believe the Tracer deserves this sort of treatment and emotional abuse. I don't agree because, should we fight monsters by doing monstrous deeds ourselves? There can be a thin line between justice and cruelty.

Additionally, it should be noted that The Darkest Minds sports a diverse cast. Chubs is African American and so is Ruby and Zu is Japanese American. I am really glad that the novel's protagonists are mostly people of color and we need such characters in literature today especially in young adult literature.

There has still been criticism in the series where people do not seem to like Ruby or Liam and prefer Chubs and other characters more. An older Zu is the prtagonist of The Darkest Legacy and I am glad that she was chosen to be the new face of the series.

What I didn't understand about IAAN yet and wonder if it is later explained in the franchise is that what happens to children with IAAN as they grow older. The novels seems to explain the dark reality they may be killed even before reaching adulthood but I always do wonder about that question.

Overall, The Darkest Minds is a good new Young Adult series and I like that it seems to have a more balanced narrative than most other young adult franchises. I hope the sequels come out, until then we have the books.


The writer is a Copy Editor at The Asian Age