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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277

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A novel about disease and the turmoil it can incite, The Darkest Minds raises questions about how responsibility to secure the common good in the face of epidemic can be balanced with individual liberties. Although dystopian, the book nevertheless ends on a note of hope but leaves many questions open—in part because it is the first book of a series. It focuses on a strong protagonist, Ruth, a girl seeking her own identity while growing up marked by serious condition—whether gift or affliction; thus it is also a coming-of-age story. Although Ruth is presented in an extreme situation, her dilemma seems universal through the commonality of feeling different.

Disease is used literally as a central issue, so the novel suggests associations with recent health crises such as AIDS and Ebola. The children who survive when affected with a neurodegenerative disorder, called IAAN, are removed from society, supposedly for everyone’s safety, and taken to camps to be rehabilitated. Numerous instances of medical mistreatment of involuntarily detained victims—whether Nazi Germany, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, or lobotomization—are also evoked.

Ruth struggles to stay true to herself while facing the fact that her condition renders her dangerous and that she has also harmed her family; having the ability to erase memories, she accidentally did so to her own mother. The bonds that Ruth forms at the camp, and the ways she and the other children join forces to resist the abuses, give a sense of a new society in formation. Yet in the choices she makes and challenges she faces to control her power show the internal as well as external qualities needed for social cohesion.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 260

The Darkest Minds is a novel that starts out with the discovery that some illness is killing children who have reached the age of ten. The children who survive end up with strange abilities. The story follows two such survivors named Ruby and Lee.

As is classic for Young Adult or YA fiction, the children are sent to a facility called Camp Thurmond with a post-apocalyptic feel to it and then are sorted into categories. This type of plot device is common for YA books because many teenagers are still trying to understand their identities and easy categories end up being satisfying for them.

In the case of Darkest Minds, these categories include the colors green, blue, yellow, orange and red. These colors indicate the level of danger for the abilities each child possesses with green being the safest and red being the most dangerous.

Ruby’s intelligence is highlighted right away as she is able to persuade the doctor evaluating her threat level that she belongs in the “green” category when her power is closer to “orange.”

As is also common of the YA science fiction genre, the special children in the camp are treated badly by adults and there is a sense of the more “dangerous” characters being misunderstood by those in power in a dangerous way. This is what leads to the bonding among Lee, Ruby, and other characters in the camp, even to the extent that they are willing to put themselves in danger such as returning to the camp to save more people after escaping.