It’s an exciting time for YA author Alexandra Bracken. The film adaptation of her novel, The Darkest Minds (Disney-Hyperion) premieres on August 3, starring Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, and Gwendoline Christie. Bracken has another reason to celebrate this summer, with the release of The Darkest Legacy later this month. It’s the first novel-length book in her The Darkest Minds series since the original trilogy in 2014 (Bracken has also written three Darkest Minds novellas), and takes place five years after the end of the trilogy. The book features a new narrator: 18-year-old Suzume, a character who appeared in the earlier books.
The Darkest Minds film is set in a future United States following an epidemic that eradicated most of the world’s children. In the aftermath of that event, children—like the story’s protagonist, 16-year-old Ruby (played by Stenberg)—are developing strange and sometimes frightening abilities. As a result, the government sequesters those with unusual powers in rehabilitation camps—until the youth begin to rebel against the authority figures that have oppressed them.
Bracken called the experience of watching her book being adapted to screen “exciting and also totally surreal—I swear, my feelings about it change from one minute to the next.” A film adaptation of The Darkest Minds has been a possibility since it was optioned back in 2011. Even so, she added, “There’s a part of me that still doesn’t believe that it’s happening. There’s so many hundreds of ways the adaption could have fallen apart on the path to being greenlit.” Although Bracken wasn’t directly involved in the making of the film, she had many early conversations with screenwriter Chad Hodge, and director Jennifer Yuh Nelson also openly welcomed her input on the film. Bracken also has a brief cameo: “You can spot me in the last few minutes of the film. I’m a great big blur passing by the screen!”
Since filming began, Bracken has regularly heard from fans both excited and sometimes anxious about the adaption. “Let’s just say that there has been quite a bit of anxiety from the moment the project went into development,” she said. She can empathize with readers’ fears that a movie might not honor the integrity of its source material: “We are all protective over the things we love. I’ve been encouraging my readers to go into the adaptation of The Darkest Minds with an open mind.”
That said, Bracken was not without her own initial trepidations. She recognized the challenges inherent in adapting a book of more than 400 pages into a film that is less than two hours. Some adjustments were necessary, but changes to the story were primarily made for the purposes of onscreen cohesion; a few tweaks also arose from thoughts and suggestions made by the cast and crew. Ultimately, Bracken feels that the film captures the most essential qualities of the book. “I think [the filmmakers] did a great job of streamlining the plot without losing the heart of the book and who the characters are,” she said. “The film is a true collaboration, and it was amazing for me to see what resonated with different people, and what they wanted to draw out of the story for the screen. I hope readers have as much fun watching the film as I did.”
Back to the Book
After finishing the last book in the original trilogy in 2014, Bracken knew that she would return to the Darkest Minds universe eventually. But she was seeking the same sort of emotional urgency that had compelled her to write the first book. That spark arose from Bracken’s experiences as a teenager living in a climate of social and political turbulence post-9/11: “I wanted to be able to work toward positive change outside of my community, but it felt like there was no real avenue for it, and I wasn’t ever going to be heard or find others who shared my views.” The Darkest Minds enabled her to creatively channel that feeling of powerlessness and frustration by writing about empowered young characters that unite for a common purpose.
Years later, in a very different political and social climate, outside circumstances again inspired Bracken—this time, as she was processing her feelings surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Through the upheaval and social discord resulting from the election, Bracken found the “emotional core” that she needed to write The Darkest Legacy. With the rise of youth activism in response to gun violence and other issues in recent months, Bracken could not imagine a more timely moment for The Darkest Minds series. “The powers of the teenagers in The Darkest Minds were always meant to represent that inherent drive that young people have to make change, and how the world pushes back against it,” she said. “It’s incredibly meaningful to me that the film is happening right now, as more teen activists step onto the world’s stage and make their voices heard.”