Review: Birthmarked

Review: BirthmarkedBirthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
Series: Birthmarked #1
Published by Roaring Brook Press on March 30, 2010
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 361
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
three-half-stars

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother's footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

Brief Summary:
Birthmarked is one of many in the recent wave of dystopias. This future America has clearly had some sort of environmental cataclysm; the lakes (called unlakes) are dry and rain comes but infrequently. Crops are difficult to sustain, so mycoprotein, which can be grown without sunlight, has become important for subsistence. The society consists of the better-off people inside the Wall, who have technology and running water. Outside the wall, they live more like subsistence farmers or a third world country.

Sixteen year old Gaia has lived a pleasant, if hard-working, life outside the Wall. Her mother works as a midwife and Gaia is finally old enough to be making it her career as well, no longer merely an apprentice to her mother. Her life is not an easy one, but she is happy and dearly loves her mother and father. The only thing that mars her existence is the scar on her face, which prevented her from being Advanced (taken to be adopted by a family inside the city). Midwives have to Advance a quote of a babies every month and the mothers just have to accept this; Gaia’s mother gave her first two children, both sons, to be Advanced.

Gaia’s life is thrown into chaos when she discovers that her parents have been arrested. She cannot fathom why this has happened and doesn’t know what to do. All she has is a small mysterious package, the last thing given to her by her parents, and a guard interrogating her in her parent’s house. Disgruntled with life after these new revelations, Gaia determines to sneak into the city to find, and possibly rescue her parents. She finds that life is not necessarily any better behind the Wall and that first impressions can be quite wrong, even about herself.

Review:
Birthmarked is a good read, not incredibly fast paced, the way The Hunger Games is, but it moves along steadily. The characters feel realistic and multidimensional. My only real criticism of the novel is that I could not picture any of the characters. O’Brien does wonderful descriptions of the places and the codes, but does not tend to describe people, except some of the details. This may be a good thing, if you are one of the people who likes being able to create the character’s physical appearance in your mind. (Personally, I like to have a ‘correct’ picture, by which I mean based on the canon of the author’s description.)

I do not want to spoil anything, because I know that is unbearably obnoxious, but I will say that this book flows much more like a traditional dystopia and less like some of the more cheerful ones coming out for children now. Some comparisons could be made here perhaps to The Handmaid’s Tale, although obviously less harsh for the teen audience. O’Brien came up with a different plot line, focusing less on how the society came about and more on the problems within it (particularly the unforeseen complications a small population can bring). I highly recommend this as one of the better written and more original books coming out now.

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