“There are many ways to be a criminal or hero. Don’t forget that.”
–Caragh O’Brien, Birthmarked
Genre: YA Dsytopian
Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 361 pages
Publication Date: March 30th, 2010
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**SPOILERS AHEAD READER BE WARNED*
Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien is the first in a series of three young adult books. And it’s dystopian. Yes I know your hesitation. Please don’t judge yet. I read a lot of young adult and I have been in love with dystopia since The Giver and I have to say this series is unique. Does it have your token love interest drama? Yes. Is that all this book revolves around? Great goodness NO! This series is one of the few that surpasses the standard young adult novel. The main characters are complex, misunderstood, and the female protagonist is a fighter. I LOVE this.
Ok, so the story. Gaia is a 16 year old with a horrible scar on the side of her face from an accident when she was younger and works as a midwife who has learned all she knows from her mother. In this society, she lives in the poor wasteland outside of the Enclave which is a city of the privileged and rich people. As part of the law, each midwife is required to “advance” the first three babies born each month to the Enclave. They will be adopted and live there with all it’s advantages. It is supposed to be an honor but after time people start to realize how messed up this is and do not want to give up their children. Gaia’s parents personally advanced their two eldest sons.
Gaia has no significant problems with the way things are until she delivers her first baby solo and the mother is a wreck and wants her child back…and then on her way home Gaia finds out her parents were arrested without cause. She is told by Old Meg, her mother’s assistant, and is given a package that was her mother’s that contains a very finely weaved ribbon. She is questioned by a Captain Grey (enter love interest here) at her home and she really is quite clueless as to why her parents are gone. Gaia eventually sneaks into the Enclave, gets arrested after cutting out a baby of a pregnant prisoner that was hanged, and encounters Captain Grey yet again. He interrogates her again, she still knows nothing and is sent to Q cell where she encounters other doctors who she befriends and works with. She finds out her mother is alive and her father was killed…trying to reach her mother…the first twist of the dagger in the heart. She continues to periodically interact with Captain Grey, you can tell he likes her but she’s unsure and from there we get an escape, an attempted rescue of the mother who turns out to be pregnant and delivers a baby girl, and then the highest gamble of all…Captain Grey and Gaia want to escape the Enclave.
There is so much more that happens and so much more we learn about Gaia and Grey that will make you fall in love with these characters. Grey, first name Leon, is reserved, quiet, and at times completely unreadable. Gaia knows she feels different when he’s around she is just unable to identify with what it is. And this is completely understandable due to the fact that she has been ostracized for her scar for her whole life. She has never felt loved (by anyone other than her parents), she never felt beautiful or special or wanted. I feel as if she built up a wall out of sheer necessity because of the cruelty of human beings. My heart breaks for her. When Leon finds her and begins to understand her my heart just leapt. I know I may be a little too emotionally involved because of my personal understanding of the character but it doesn’t matter. She fights to find her mother even when everyone around her tells her its impossible. She doesn’t care, she does it anyways. I think this is awesome.
This is the quickest summary imaginable but I can’t go in to too much detail because you MUST read it. Gaia is strong but so vulnerable at the same time. Again, I can personally identify with her because I find my personality very similar to her. She has never been that girl that others watch in a romantic way, she was fine living her life as a midwife and helping woman have their babies, she resigned to the feeling that this was it. But then Leon comes along. He sees her for who she is. She is strong, she is loyal, she is right in her convictions and she does not care who you are and she will always do what she thinks is right. She is a phenomenal character and role model for young girls to read about.
Leon also has his own complex issues to work though and I love that O’Brien doesn’t make this book cookie cutter. There are some serious emotional and mental issues going on with a lot of characters and it makes the story so much more believable. Everyone is not perfect and people have many issues and layers. O’Brien definitely builds their stories and develops their emotions.
The writing is quick and fast paced and you just really don’t want to put this book down. This first book is phenomenal and really builds up to the second book (review to come next). Seriously, I feel like I summarized thoroughly and there is just so much I have left out on purpose to force anyone reading to go read this. This book is not just a love triangle and a screwed up society. This book deals with love, family, loss, abuse, oppression, genetics, science fiction, and the complex relationships and diversity we all have within and between our families.
I cannot say enough wonderful things about this book and to be honest, while this book really is SPECTACULAR I think the sequel is even better. I cannot WAIT to write about that and me thoughts and emotions while reading. It really is special in a category where young adult dystopian books are not hard to come by and this stands out to me.