Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien


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 disappear.

As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit.

Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.


Enthralling and realistic, Birthmarked forces the reader to really think. Although set several hundred years in the future, this book holds a degradation of the human race into a less fruitful time, forcing decisions to be made that are cruel and inhumane by both our modern standards and those of this futuristic civilization, lending it an old time feel. Albeit a fictional world, it is very easy to see how this scenario could end up playing out- the elite suppressing the poor, humans being used as a breeding ground to keep the population going and several other well thought out and planned instances. All these things have happened in our world's history at one time or another and this is one of the biggest reasons this book, while gripping and engrossing, will also force the reader to think.

This book is shrouded with mystery throughout it- from the reason Gaia's parents were arrested to the "secret code" they held and even to many of the reasons the Enclave exists and how they function. Shocking twists and unexpected turns were rapt throughout, keeping the reader turning the pages and eager to know more. While some things could be guessed in advance, this book was by no means predictable. Many things that could be seen had enough hints and background for the reader to make the connection- things provided by the author.

Gaia's character is well written, harboring both glaringly strong and weak traits. She has her moments of pure irrationality, her times of weakness and feeling nothing but hopelessness but she also finds reasons to keep going, has an innate ability to both survive and think things through, and overall is a strong character. As she becomes more involved with everything inside the walls of the Enclave, the vast differences between the way she grew up and the lifestyle of the elite become obvious, helping to pull not only her character and her parents together, but the book as a whole.

O'Brien does a phenomenal job pitching both sides of the story, forcing the reader to see things from both the point of view of those inside and outside the walls. The battle ground is certainly an ethical and moral one with each side holding persuasive reasons for their actions and beliefs, all the while letting the reader see how shaken one person can be when everything they've known and grew up on is suddenly thrust into a different light. Had the book been written in the mindset of an elite citizen from inside the wall, the reader would very likely have a different overall view of everything- take a different stand than they come out with having watched Gaia's struggle. The ability to bend the reader in such a way is a mark of brilliance and a fine art and O'Brien nails it with this.

The plot progresses at an overall steady pace, building steadily until things pick up towards the end for the climax and a relatively fast tapering, ending with a cliffhanger ending that is leaving innumerable doors open for the next installment. There are slower times but I feel particularly with this book, the reader needs those pages to reconcile things that have happened, the ramifications of actions occuring long before the present, and to prepare themselves for whatever else Gaia was to face. Strongly well written, the imagery is vivid and the emotional pull strong. I strongly recommend this book for both the entertainment factor as well as it's ability to make you think and leave you wanting more. The first in a series, this is a very brilliant and stunning dystopian debut.

Source: Finished copy received from publisher for review
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (March 30, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1596435690
ISBN-13: 978-1596435698

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  1. Thanks for the review! I've been wanting to read this :)

  2. I’m looking forward to reading this one. Sounds really good :)

  3. AHHH! You make it sound soooo good. Fantastic review, Kari!

  4. Cant wait to read this one! Sounds fantastic :)

  5. This one does look intriguing. Glad you enjoyed it!!