Saturday, May 22, 2010

Review of Birthmarked

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
Pages: 320
Genre: YA Science-fiction
Pub. Date: March 30, 2010
ARC received from Book It Forward ARC Tours
My Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents are arrested.  Badly scarred since childhood, Gaia is a strong, resourceful loner who begins to question her society. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she herself is arrested and imprisoned.  Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where one girl can make all the difference, and a real hero makes her own moral code."

Imagine a future many, many years from now that is unlike the world we know, due to a drastic climate change.  The world that Caragh O'Brien creates is unlike any world that I have imagined.  There's  a world of have-nots living in poverty outside of the wall that separates them from the wealthy.  The poverty stricken people that live outside of the wall live without modern amenities and pretty much live like peasants whereas it's the complete opposite for those lucky enough to be on the inside of the wall or the Enclave.  Gaia Stone, the sixteen year old protagonist is a midwife who helps serve the Enclave by advancing a certain number of babies born outside the wall to the them.   The Enclave must have these babies from the "outside" as they have had genetic problems within the wall due to inbreeding.  Everything is status quo for Gaia, until her parents are taken away from her and jailed inside the Enclave.  Gaia must find not only why they were taken away, but also a way to save them, because they are the only family she has left.  Caragh M. O'Brien's dystopian page-turner, Birthmarked, does not disappoint.

Gaia is a complex character that has severe scarring on her face; hence, the title, Birthmarked.  She is extremely self-conscious and due to the scarring, she could never advance to the Enclave as they don't accept anyone disfigured, diseased, handicapped, etc.  This doesn't stop Gaia from being a tough, resourceful teenager.  When her parents are arrested, she doesn't throw up her hands in defeat, she is determined to rescue them.  In fact, Gaia questions the Enclave and the many rules that have been in place for years that often go unchallenged.  Gaia is a true heroine that stands up against unjust oppressors and doesn't simply accept things that are unfair.  With all that said, it's easy to see why I enjoyed the character of Gaia so much.  

O'Brien's writing style is superb.  Seriously. Although she has written adult novels before, this is her first young adult and I think it suits her.  Her character development is fantastic. None of her characters ever felt flat or one dimensional to me.  Plus, I love the fact that O'Brien is a high school English teacher; so, I gotta show my love!  I also thought that O'Brien did a great job with the ending.  It was a true ending and brought closure to the story.  Sure, O'Brien left room for a sequel, but I felt the ending could stand alone. It's so nice to read a traditional ending after so many cliffhangers and moments of suspense, which are obviously used in the many series I've been reading lately.

This story, like many dystopias, makes you think.  I made many connections to World War II and the Nazis.  I felt like some of the themes and messages were very similar.  Plus, the Ghetto uprisings during World War II also felt very similar to Gaia's goals when trying to help her parents.  Like any good book, this one truly makes you ponder the future and also asks you revisit history.

The only reason I didn't give this novel four out of five stars is because I wanted to know more regarding the background.  For example, are there other communities like Gaia's or is this the only "world" after the climate change.  What is the background regarding the Enclave? Why did they create it? I also wish thereqas a little more action, romance and/or developing relationships in the book. O'Brien touches on this, but I wish she would develop this aspect a bit more.  

All in all, it's easy to see why Birthmarked is a nominee for 2010's YALSA Best Fictional Book.  I think my middle school students will love this novel, especially fans of The Giver and Hunger Games. Ultimately, I think Caragh M. O'Brien is here to stay in the young adult world; I know I'll definitely be reading her next book and according to her website, Birthmarked is part of a trilogy.  

*Interested in this book? Read the first chapter here.

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  1. Wonderful review! I also would have liked some more back story to the Enclave. Hopefully, there's more info on that in the next 2 books.

  2. I'm really looking forward to reading this. I've heard such good things about it. Thanks for the review :)

  3. Great review. I have this one sitting at home waiting for me :)

  4. I didn't realise this one was part of a trilogy. Your review has made me even more excited about this book actually - I love the sound of the main character, and the world sounds completely fascinating. Thanks for a great review!

  5. great review and I totally agree with more information is needed.

  6. Awesome Review...thanks for all the great depth and info. Also thanks for using the BWB banner on your post.

  7. Nice review- I totally agree on needing more background information. I wasn't quite as enamored with this book as I'd hoped I would be but I'm glad you liked it!


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