Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review - Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Published on March 30, 2010
Review based on ARC (received from Book It Forward ARC Tours)
Rating: 4 bookcases

Summary from Goodreads:  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 takes place in the 2400s; years after most of the Earth’s resources have been depleted. What is left of the population is divided; a small portion lives in the Enclave, a city surrounded by a tall stone wall, while the rest live in Wharfton, outside of the wall. The wall denotes more than the cities’ borders, it represents the separation of the haves and have-nots. Gaia Stone and her parents live in Western Sector 3 of Wharfton, where they have led a happy life until the start of novel.

Birthmarked was a fantastic, well paced novel that tells the story of Gaia and her disillusionment with the society she lives in. At the start, Gaia was happy to do her part for the Enclave, being a midwife and advancing three babies per month and believing what she saw about the Enclave on the Tvaltar. After her parents were arrested for treason, Gaia began to question some of the Enclave’s practices. She quickly realized that her parents would probably not be coming back and put into place a plan to sneak into the Enclave. Once inside the wall, Gaia was amazed by what she saw. The Enclave was the same, but very different from what she expected.

This is when the story really took off. The opening chapter introduced the reader to Gaia and the fact that the Enclave and the Protectorate ruled over Wharfton. Once Gaia took the reader inside the wall, her life changed completely. Her innocence about the Enclave was stripped away and as a result of one simple act, she became a traitor.

We talked about strong female characters on Thursday, and I think that Gaia Stone would fit in nicely with Katniss, Rose, DJ Schwenck, and Frankie Landau-Banks. Gaia was a very driven young woman. She knew what she wanted and did everything in her power to get it. She stood up for what she believed, even when she was branded a traitor. Instead of bowing to pressure from both friends and those in power, Gaia stayed true to herself and her beliefs.

The quick pace and excellent world building had me glued to this book. I wanted to know what happened next, would Gaia find her parents; would she ultimately find her way back to Wharfton? In addition to the action, there was a small amount of romance.  It was a lovely part of the story that really helped to round out Gaia's character.  I liked that in the midst of everything that was happening, Gaia was able to find someone that truly loved her for who she was. Another aspect of the book that I really liked was the characters. Most of the characters felt real to me; from Gaia to her neighbors to the Protectorate, they were all written in a way that made them leap off the page. 
The only part of Birthmarked that I didn’t particularly like was the ending. The last few chapters felt a little rushed. The action at this point was non-stop and the ending felt incomplete. Maybe, I was expecting or hoping for a different ending. Then ending leaves room for the question, what happened to Gaia next? From what I’ve read, the author originally planned Birthmarked as a stand-alone novel, but she is now writing a sequel. So maybe we’ll find out what happens next for Gaia.
Overall, Birthmarked was a great addition to the dystopian genre. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to those who enjoy reading dystopian books. I would also recommend Birthmarked to readers who might be hesitant to read this genre because I feel that it is a great introduction to the type of books that dystopian has to offer.


  1. This will be my first dystopian novel and after your great review I'm looking forward to reading it! The premise sounds great and since I'm from Michigan I'm curious about the Unlake Superior.

  2. I am glad you enjoyed this one! It was one of my favorites reads this year. I am looking forward to the sequel too!

  3. Gosh have I ever mentioned how much I love your reviews? This sounds fantastic! I have in my TBR pile so I'm super excited to read it. Dystopia is great! (:

  4. I agree with you about the ending- it felt very rushed. But I liked the book overall as well. I also agree with you about the character of Gaia--she is independent and a strong female character. Great review!

  5. Thanks Sara! That was such a sweet thing for you to say :)

    Heather - I hope you enjoy Birthmarked. Yes, I wondered about Unlake Superior as well. I may have to hunt down a finished copy to look at the map.

  6. Lovely review. Ending and beginnings have to be the hardest part for any writer, and it is hard to read a really good story and have the ending finish in a hurry. I will definitely be looking to read Birth Marked in the near future. Thanks for the review

  7. I'm hearing great things about this book. I might have to check this one out from the libary :)

    We have a Sunshine Award for you here.



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