Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review of Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien - which side of the wall would you be on?

Title: Birthmarked
Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Pages: 362, Paperback
Genre: Dystopian, YA
Standalone/Series: Standalone?
Release: Already out (March 2010)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Received through Book it Forward ARC Tours
Author info:  Author website
Spoiler Alert: Minor plot spoilers
GoodReads Blurb: 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.

Birthmarked was my first dystopian read and I think I need to start reading more in this genre! The novel immediately sets-up the two discordant societies: the thriving city, the Enclave, inside the wall that survived an apocalypse and the poor shanty town that grew up around it with survivors that have little comfort in their lives. The main character, Gaia, comes home from her first baby delivery (she is a midwife) and advancement to the Enclave to find her parents arrested and a strange officer in her house. This is just the first crack that leads to the shattering of the pedestal that Gaia has put the Enclave on – it’s easy to accept the society you are born into but when you have to start questioning your devotion you life becomes infinitely more complicated. The realization that the Enclave isn’t a model society is a slow one for Gaia, even after they take her parents, and for the first part of the book Gaia continues to assist in births outside the Enclave’s wall then advance babies for adoption inside the Enclave. Those from outside the Enclave cannot enter the wall therefore they can never see their children again once they have been forced to give them up.

Although the first part of the book was a bit slow for me, once Gaia decides that all is not right inside the Enclave walls and goes on a mission to save her parents the novel definitely picks up. Once inside the wall, Gaia begins to track down her parents and unfortunately gets captured and imprisoned. On the inside Gaia begins to learn how the Enclave is founded and why the advancements occur, what the Enclave wants with her parents, and when they occasionally let her out of prison, how the people in the Enclave live. It was easy to see how the Enclave could have been developed from our world and also eerie to think what would happen to our society if there was no more fossil fuels (the apocalypse in Gaia’s world). While in prison Gaia makes some unlikely friends, including the officer that she first met in her home the night her parents were taken, learns the truth about what happened to her parents, and plans her escape.  She also learns the truth of the birthmark on her face and experiences her first kiss and the excitement of budding romance. Though now life for her is dangerous in the Enclave as well as in her town and huge sacrifices are made on the way to freedom for Gaia.

This was a 3.5 out of 5 stars for me, realizing the world around you is not what it seems is a difficult trip that Ms. O’Brien writes surpassingly well.


A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I've been in the mood for a good YA dystopian! This looks like a great one. Here are some I loved in this genre: Life as we knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Hunger Games/Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner (Can't remember the authors name-sorry!) & Uglies by Scott Westerfield. The first book on the list is what got me reading YA again.

Tori [Book Faery] said...

I've never read dystopian fiction (that I can think of, at least lol) but this sounds interesting. I've been on the fence about reading this book. Thanks for the great review :D

Jenny said...

Haven't heard of this one but it sounds like an intriguing premise. Great review!

Heather (DarklyReading) said...

@Buckeye girl - Yeah Hunger Games is next on my list to read in the genre- everyone seems to love it so I can't wait to check it out!

@Tori - Since we got Saphique (and I think at least the first one is kind of dystopian) at BEA I figure it's time to try the genre out.

@Jenny - Yeah there hasn't been much about it on the blogs so I figured I would check it out - happy I did. Though it does make me kind of sad to think about how our world will be in 400 more years...

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