When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.
Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.
I´ve always loved road trip books. There´s so much space for good dialogue and interesting experiences and adventures, which usually become the stepping-stones into realistic character development, which is why I´m mostly centering this review around this book´s characters. Sometimes it can get dragged out and boring, but I´m happy to say the author managed to completely avoid that. Besides, it´s not just a road trip story, it´s so much more…
First, we´ve got our main Quintet: Ruby, Liam, Charles Carrington Meriwether IV, Zu and Black Betty.
Ruby´s the narrarator, and starts off extremely shy and insecure. She´s been stuck in Thurmond for six years, completely isolated from the outside world, suffering through beatings and the White Noise (an earsplitting frequency that only kids with the abilities can hear), and struggling with herself. She believes she´s a monster, that everything is her fault and that she´s worthless. Sometimes, Ruby annoyed me because she could be too submissive and inactive, but I really can´t judge, because I have no idea if I´d be any better if I were in her place. BUT, after she escapes, spends time with the troupe and gets into a whole lot of trouble with them, her personality starts cracking through the insecurities and anxiety, and it´s marvelous. Really, though, whenever she would use her mojo and get stuff rolling I just wanted to yell kind of like, YOU GO RUBY! Get over that anxiety!
Then we´ve got our own little cutie patootie, Liam Stewart. He´s a brilliant mix of southern charm, sunshine and pure goodness. He´s incredibly intelligent, optimistic and so wholly three dimensional that it honestly made me cry sometimes. He is such a nice (and good looking) break from all the brooding, dark male characters in YA, but as much as Ruby says he´s an open book, there´s always this feeling that he has a secret. I mean, no one´s this nice or kind or responsible, right? Right? Wrong. Liam´s the greatest person to ever exist in young adult fiction and no one deserves him (but he does deserve someone, which brings us into a nasty conundrum). His and Ruby´s relationship is a literal rainbow. It´s so cute and tentative and ahhhh, sometimes I just want to squeeze them into a hug and never let them go (but maybe I could take a five minute break and kick Ruby´s butt, because she really needs to get her crap together).
And now it´s time to discuss the real star of this show, Charles Carrington Meriwether IV, a.k.a. Chubs. He´s a “grumpy seventy-year-old man trapped in a seventeen-year-old´s body”, the only one in this whole thing who seems to have his head somewhat straight on his shoulders. He can be extremely rude and unwelcoming to strangers (he doesn´t like change) but he´s also the mother hen, and keeps a little fancy lady kit (Liam´s words, not mine) with needles and etcetera, in case of ripped clothes and bloody wounds. He can be reluctant and worries too much, but if you´re looking for some interesting book reviews and an endless fountain of loyalty, he´s your man.
The little baby of the Quintet is tiny, feisty Zu. She´s absolutely adorable, incredibly strong, so sassy, and yet, has gone through so much crap that she doesn´t even talk anymore. She´s silent, but manages to communicate so much through her actions, even if she´s so young. I kept wanting to burst through the pages and hug her to my chest! And I would tell her, “You are perfect just the way you are, and we all love you very, very much.” But I think she knew that. Liam, Chubs and even Ruby (who arrived much later) made sure she did.
Chubs and Liam are like a married couple, and Zu is their daughter, who is constantly exasperated and embarrassed by her bickering parents. And then the married couple adopted a stray kitten with some really sharp, hidden claws (that´s Ruby). They´re a happy, angsty, dysfunctional family who love each other very much.
The final member of our wonderful Quintet is the ever-present Black Betty. She´s got personality, and is the reason our disaster-prone characters survived even five minutes. And…she´s also a very patched up black van. If it weren´t for her, they would still be walking around the empty highways, wondering if East River was even a thing. Good job, Black Betty.
Overall, I am just so in love with these characters and their diversity. I adore that Liam´s southern, and Zu is Asian and Chubs has dark skin. So much variety and representation and oh, it´s perfect!
There´s this one kid called Clancy in the story, but I´m not going to talk about him. He´s a butt. A very charming one, but still a butt (I WAS RIGHT ABOUT HIM ALL ALONG).
This whole story is crazy! Kids are being hunted down, treated like they´re dirt and the most horrendous things in the world. It´s so inhumane and awful, and I just kept thinking, don´t they at least realize they need kids? I mean, they´re not going to live forever! But that´s certainly not the only reason why they shouldn´t be doing what they were doing. Throughout the book, I kept forgetting that the world is still busy outside the camps, with businesses, jobs, people working and living. For some reason I kept thinking places should be abandoned, but then I´d remember, the grown ups were fine. The kids were the ones suffering.
But, man, so much happens in this book! From Ruby´s escape, to daring plans, to horrible losses and great bursts of happiness, to some really fun parts and heart-pumping chases… it´s an enormous, intricate adventure that will leave you wanting more. And dear God, Alexandra Bracken, you mastermind genius, that ending slapped me across the face and left me a rather surprised, sobbing mess. 5 out of 5 stars.