When a generation of kids develops superpowers, the government embarks on a massive campaign to detain them and suppress their powers — so begins The Darkest Minds trilogy by Alexandra Bracken. If you think that sounds eerily prescient, you're absolutely right. The series was first published in 2012, but the idea of kids using their power to make change happen is more relevant than ever. "It's like the real world will always catch up with me," Bracken tells Bustle.
The author is having a big summer: The movie adaptation of the first novel in the The Darkest Minds series comes out on Aug. 3 and stars Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, and Amandla Stenberg. And a few days earlier, on July 31, the latest book in the series, The Darkest Legacy, hits bookstores. This explosive series is a powerful, action-packed ride that is sure to have viewers on their edge of their seats from beginning to end.
The Darkest Minds is set in a dystopian version of the United States. A mysterious disease killed thousands of children, and the kids who survived have developed intense superpowers, like telekinesis and the ability to manipulate memory. The government has placed most of these children — known as Psi — in camps intended to restrict their power. Ruby was forced into one of these camps at the age of 10 after she accidentally erased her parents' memory of her. Years later, as a 16-year-old, she decides she's had enough of the camps and she decides to plot her escape from the camps and join a movement to help free other Psi kids. But it soon becomes clear that the adults who want to help her can't be trusted. It's up to Ruby and her small group of companions to fight for their own freedom and safety.
"The book is fully mine—I control everything about the book except, you know, editorial input," Bracken says. "But when it comes to the movie, they start with my book, but then so many people weigh in with ideas and suggestions. When I watched the movie, I found I was able to enjoy it all the more because of all the embellishment that they've put on things, I thought the changes they made were really smart and have streamlined the story for the screen."
In Bracken's series, the Psi powers are classified by color: Reds have the power to create and control fire; Yellows have the ability to create and control electricity; Blues have the power to move objects with their thoughts; Greens possess heightened intelligence; and Oranges — like Ruby — have the power to control minds, memories, and emotions. The person's abilities are genetic luck-of-the-draw, but Bracken thought deeply about how the powers would match with her characters' personalities.
"With Ruby, I knew from the beginning that something had happened that makes her fearful of getting close to other people, and I built her power based off of that," says Bracken. "With Liam, he's such a protective person in every sense of the word. I kind of wanted him to be a Blue so he would have the defensive abilities, he could really be protective of the group. And with Chubs, I really wanted to explore what it's like for someone who doesn't necessarily love their powers, is maybe a little bit, not scared of them necessarily, but doesn't really want to keep reinforcing to himself over and over again that he's different."
"With Ruby, I knew from the beginning that something had happened that makes her fearful of getting close to other people, and I built her power based off of that."
The Darkest Minds was originally inspired by Bracken's experiences as a teenager wanting to make change happen but feeling helpless to do so. "When I was a teenager, I felt really powerless. You know, I grew up in the post-September 11th world, I was a freshman in high school when the attack happened," she says. "During that time I saw how easy it was for people to be emotionally manipulated in a time of great fear, and how they might agree to do things that they otherwise wouldn't or support things that they otherwise wouldn't. As a teenager I felt like I wanted to go out and help others, I wanted to make a difference in the world, make positive change. And I just didn't have the tools or the avenue to do that, I couldn't see the way forward. And I think the world in general tries to kind of push back against that natural energy that young people and especially teenagers have to drive forward and make change, to question the status quo and the way things are."
The idea of teenage activism continues to be a theme in her work. The Darkest Legacy, which comes out on July 31, is a standalone novel that takes place five years after the events of the original trilogy. In this book, the characters struggle to figure out how their society should move forward. While writing the book, Bracken was thinking about the rise of teen activists, like the Parkland shooting survivors and the teens involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
"As a teenager I felt like I wanted to go out and help others, I wanted to make a difference in the world, make positive change. And I just didn't have the tools or the avenue to do that, I couldn't see the way forward."
"'Legacy' in this book really relates to the idea that you don't have to necessarily accept the world that is handed to you. You can find your own way forward and you can fight for those things that you believe in, and you don't have to accept the world telling you that you don't understand or to listen to the adults," she says. "The idea of 'legacy' in the book is centered on [the notion that] they've inherited this world that they don't necessarily have to accept, and they can find ways to remake it."
Another way that The Darkest Legacy differs from the original trilogy is that it's told from the point of view of Zu, not Ruby. When readers first meet Zu in The Darkest Minds, she refuses to speak at all as a result of the trauma she's faced. In The Darkest Legacy, she's working as a Psi spokesperson for the government.
"'Legacy' in this book really relates to the idea that you don't have to necessarily accept the world that is handed to you. You can find your own way forward and you can fight for those things that you believe in, and you don't have to accept the world telling you that you don't understand or to listen to the adults."
"Zu as the narrator was actually the last piece that fell into place and that ultimately tied all of these many different ideas together. I couldn't believe that I didn't think about it right from the outset because a lot of the focus is centered on the idea of how we use our voices and what we choose to fight for," says Bracken. "Zu begins the first book actively choosing not to speak. She's withholding her voice...so that she can have some small semblance of control over her life. And then as the series goes on, she realizes that she actually has to speak up and she has to play an important role in convincing people that the kids like them aren't bad, and that they're human, and deserve to be treated as much."
Whether you're only just now coming into this thrilling series or you've been a long-time fan, there's certainly much to look forward to. "I always tell readers when it comes to book-to-film adaptation, just go in with an open mind," says Bracken.