Birthmarked by Caragh O’brien

October 20, 2011 Reviews 0

Caragh O’brien is an American writer who has studied literature and creative writing. She currently teaches at a high school in Connecticut and has published many romance novels for adults. Birthmarked, the first book in the Birthmarked trilogy, is her first young adult novel. The second book in the series, Prized, is due for release on 8th November 2011, and the third book, Promised, is due out in 2012.

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.

I found the book to be an easy read which raised questions about current lifestyles in the western world and the scientific, political and social effect a climate change crisis could mitigate. Gaia’s world on the edge of the Enclave is sheltered and she believes that those inside the walled city are justified in withholding commodities such as electricity, water and education from those living outside. Every month, three babies per midwife are allowed to advance into the walled city for a better life. She is accepting of this situation until the capture of her parents by the Enclave, which acts as a catalyst to make her question the very foundation of her society. 

Gaia is a very strong character who I liked very much. Her actions are always planned, her feelings are clear, and I think she is one of the better heroines in YA fiction today. Her childhood was very happy and her parents have done an admirable job in raising a child who is socially conscious and values morality. Even Gaia’s romantic experiences are guided by her sense of right and wrong. The progression of her feelings for Leon are realistic, and occur for all the right reasons, with the couple beginning to understand one another on a deep emotional level.

The use of a secret code and hidden messages added a dimention to the novel which is not usually seen in young adult fiction. I found that at times the book read like a mystery thriller. For younger readers I caution that there are some confronting birthing scenes in the book, and that there is an incident in Leon’s past which may be distressing. However, in both instances I believe the author handled delicate issues with maturity and forthrightness while preserving dignity.

This is a refreshing, new type of dystopian story with a great heroine, and a must read for those who enjoy young adult fiction, science fiction or romance.

 About the book:

  • Pub. Date: 28 April 2011
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
  • Format: Paperback, 362 pages
  • ISBN 13: 9780857071392 ISBN 10: 0857071394
  • Categories: Science Fiction, Young Adult
  • My review of Prized (#2 of the Birthmarked trilogy)

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