In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the wall and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife, Gaia Stone, who live outside. Gaia has always believed it is her duty, with her mother, to hand over a small quota of babies to the Enclave. But when Gaia's mother and father are arrested by the very people they so dutifully serve, Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught to believe. Gaia's choice is now simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.
About the Author
Since earning an MA in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, Caragh M. O'Brien has been a high school teacher, an author of romance novels, and now a novelist for teens. Her novels Birthmarked and Prized were named YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults. Birthmarked was also a Junior Library Guild Selection and chosen for the ALA 2011 Amelia Bloomer List.
Read an Excerpt
BIRTHMARKED (Chapter 1)The Baby Quota
IN THE DIM HOVEL, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia's ready hands.
"Good job," Gaia said. "Wonderful. It's a girl."
The baby cried indignantly, and Gaia breathed a sigh of relief as she checked for toes and fingers and a perfect back. It was a good baby, healthy and well formed, if small. Gaia wrapped the child in a blanket, then held the bundle toward the flickering firelight for the exhausted mother to see.
Gaia wished her own mother were there to help, especially with managing the afterbirth and the baby. She knew, normally, she wasn't supposed to give the baby to the mother to hold, not even for an instant, but now the mother was reaching and Gaia didn't have enough hands.
"Please," the young woman whispered. Her fingers beckoned tenderly.
The baby's cries subsided, and Gaia passed her over. She tried not to listen to the mother's gentle, cooing noises as she cleaned up between her legs, moving gently and efficiently as her mother had taught her. She was excited and a little proud. This was her first delivery, and it was an unassisted delivery, too. She had helped her mother many times, and she'd known for years that she would be a midwife, but now it was finally real.
Almost finished. Turning to her satchel, she drew out the small teakettle and two cups that her mother had given her for her sixteenth birthday, only a month ago. By the light of the coals, she poured water from a bottle into the kettle. She stoked up the fire, seeing the burst of yellow light gleam over the mother with her small, quiet bundle.
"You did well," Gaia said. "How many is this for you again? Did you say four?"
"She's my first," the woman said, her voice warm with awed pleasure.
The woman's eyes gleamed briefly as she looked toward Gaia, and she smiled. In a shy, self-conscious gesture, she smoothed a sweat-damped curl back around her ear. "I didn't tell you before. I was afraid you wouldn't stay."
Gaia sat down slowly beside the fire, set the kettle on the metal rod, and swiveled it over the fire to warm.
First labors were hardest, the most risky, and although this one had progressed smoothly, Gaia knew they'd been lucky. Only an experienced midwife should have tended this woman, not only for the sake of the mother and child's heath, but for what would come next.
"I would have stayed," Gaia said softly, "but only because there's nobody else to come. My mother was already gone to another birth."
The mother hardly seemed to hear. "Isn't she beautiful?" she murmured. "And she's mine. I get to keep her."
Oh, no, Gaia thought. Her pleasure and pride evaporated, and she wished now, more than ever, that her mother were there. Or even Old Meg. Or anybody, for that matter.
Gaia opened her satchel and took out a new needle and a little bottle of brown ink. She shook the tin of tea over the kettle to drop in some flakes. The faint aroma slowly infused the room with a redolent fragrance, and the mother smiled again in a weary, relaxed way.
"I know we've never talked," the mother said. "But I've seen you and your mother coming and going at the quadrangle, and up to the wall. Everyone says you'll be as great a midwife as your mother, and now I can say it's true."
"Do you have a husband? A mother?" Gaia asked.
"No. Not living."
"Who was the boy you sent for me? A brother?"
"No. A kid who was passing in the street."
"So you have no one?"
"Not anymore. Now I have my baby, my Priscilla."
It's a bad name, Gaia thought. And what was worse, it wouldn't matter because it wouldn't last. Gaia dropped a pinch of motherwort into the mother's teacup, and then silently poured tea into the two cups, trying to think how best to do this. She let her hair fall forward, shielding the left side of her face, while she moved the empty teakettle, still warm, into her satchel.
"Here," she said, handing the cup laced with motherwort toward the young woman on the bed and smoothly removing the baby from beside her.
"What are you doing?" the mother asked.
"Just drink. It will help with the pain." Gaia took a sip from her own cup as an example.
"I don't feel much anymore. Just a little sleepy."
"That's good," Gaia said, setting her cup back by the hearth.
Quietly, she packed her gear and watched as the mother's eyelids grew heavier. She unwrapped the baby's legs to gently pull one foot out, and then she set the baby on a blanket on the floor, near the fireplace. The baby's eyes opened and flickered toward the flames: dark, murky eyes. It was impossible to tell what color they might eventually be. Gaia sopped a bit of clean rag into her cup of tea, absorbing the last hot liquid, and then wiped it over the ankle, cleaning it. She dipped the needle in the brown ink, held it briefly to the light, and then, swiftly, as she had done before under her mother's guidance, she pressed the pin into the baby's ankle in four rapid pricks. The child screamed.
"What are you doing?" the mother demanded, now fully awake.
Gaia wrapped the birthmarked baby again and cradled her firmly in one arm. She slid the teacup, needle, and ink into her satchel. Then she stepped forward and took the second teacup from beside the mother. She lifted her satchel.
"No!" the mother cried. "You can't! It's April twenty-first! Nobody ever advances a baby this late in the month."
"It's not how late the date is," Gaia said quietly. "It's the first three babies each month."
"But you must have delivered half a dozen by now," the woman shrieked, rising. She struggled to shift her legs to the side of the bed.
Gaia took a step backward, steeling herself to be strong. "My mother delivered those. This is my first," she said. "It's the first three babies for each midwife."
The mother stared at her, shock and horror shifting across her face. "You can't," she whispered. "You can't take my baby. She's mine."
"I have to," Gaia said, backing away. "I'm sorry."
"But you can't," the woman gasped.
"You'll have others. You'll get to keep some. I promise."
"Please," the mother begged. "Not this one. Not my only. What have I done?"
"I'm sorry," Gaia repeated. She'd reached the door now. She saw she'd left her tin of tea next to the fireplace, but it was too late to go back for it now. "Your baby will be well cared for," she said, using the phrases she'd learned. "You've provided a great service to the Enclave, and you will be compensated."
"No! Tell them to keep their filthy compensation! I want my baby."
The mother lunged across the room, but Gaia had expected this, and in an instant she was out of the house and moving swiftly down the dark alleyway. At the second corner, she had to stop because she was shaking so hard she was afraid she'd drop everything. The newborn made a lonely, anxious noise, and Gaia hitched her satchel more securely over her right shoulder so that she could pat the little bundle with her trembling fingers.
"Hush," she murmured.
From far behind her she heard a door open, and then a distant, wild keening noise. "Please! Gaia!" the voice called, and Gaia's heart lurched.
She sniffed back hard and turned to face the hill. This was far worse than she'd imagined it could be. Though her ears remained primed, listening for another cry in the night, she started forward again and trod rapidly up the hill toward the Enclave. The moon cast a blue light on the dark, wood and stone buildings around her, and once her foot caught against a rock. In contrast to the urgency that drove her forward, a hollow, sleepy silence filled the air. She'd made this trip many times before on her mother's behalf, but until tonight, it had never seemed like such a long journey. She knew the baby would be fine, even better than fine. She knew the mother would have others. More than anything, she knew it was the law that she turn this baby over and that if she didn't, her own life and that of the mother were forfeit.
She knew all of this, but for a moment, she wished it weren't so. In violation of everything she'd been taught, she wished she could take this baby back to her mother and tell her, "Here, take little Priscilla. Head into the wasteland and never come back."
She turned the last corner, and there was the light over the arching doors of the south gate, a single, gleaming bulb in a lantern of mirrored glass that reflected the illumination onto the doors and hard-packed ground. Two guards in black uniforms stood before the two massive wooden doors. She let her hair slide forward, covering her left cheek, and instinctively turned to keep that side of her face in shadow.
"If it isn't a little delivery," the taller guard said. He took off his wide-brimmed hat with a flourish and wedged it under an elbow. "Bringing us one of your mom's babies?"
Gaia walked forward slowly, her heart thudding against her ribs. She had to pause to catch her breath. She could almost hear the plaintive wail of the mother behind her, and Gaia feared that she was following behind on her pale, shaky legs. A bird flew overhead with a quick burst of wings. Gaia took another step forward, into the reassuring light of the lantern.
"It's my own," Gaia said. "My first."
"Is that right?" the second guard said, sounding impressed.
"Unassisted," she said, unable to resist a glimmer of pride.
She put a finger on the blanket under the infant's chin, taking a satisfied look at the even features, the little, perfect, convex dip in the skin above her upper lip. The great gate was opening, and she glanced up to see a white-clad woman approaching. She was short, with the healthy girth of someone who ate well. Her face was mature, capable, and if Gaia was correct, eager. Gaia didn't recognize her, but she'd seen others from the Nursery like her before.
"Is the baby perfect?" the woman asked, coming forward.
Gaia nodded. "I didn't have time to clean her," she apologized. "I had no assistant."
"This was your first delivery, then? There wasn't any problem with the mother, was there?"
Gaia hesitated. "No," she said. "She was glad to serve the Enclave."
"And when was the birth?"
Gaia pulled at the chain around her neck and pulled her locket watch out from the neckline of her dress. "Forty-three minutes ago."
"Excellent," the woman said. "You must remember to verify the mother's name and address in the quadrangle tomorrow morning to be sure she gets her compensation."
"I will," Gaia said, slipping the watch back into her dress.
The woman started to reach for the baby, but then her gaze flicked up to Gaia and she paused. "Let me see your face, child," the woman said gently.
Gaia lifted her chin slightly and reluctantly smoothed her hair behind her left ear. She turned fully into the light of the lamp that shone over the great gate. As if their sightlines were made of fine, invisible arrows, the gaze of six eyes zeroed in on her scar and lingered there in speechless curiosity. She forced herself to stay still and bear their scrutiny.
The taller guard cleared his throat and brought his fist to his lips in a little cough.
"You've done well, Gaia Stone," the woman said finally, giving her a wise smile. "Your mother will be proud."
"Thank you, Masister," Gaia said.
"I'm Masister Khol. Say hello to her for me."
"I will, Masister."
Gaia let the hair fall free from behind her left ear again. It didn't surprise her that the Enclave woman knew her name. Too often before, Gaia had met someone for the first time only to discover they'd already heard of her, Bonnie and Jasper Stone's daughter, the one with the burned face. The recognition no longer surprised her, but she didn't much like it. Masister Khol was holding out her hands in an expectant manner, and Gaia gently leaned the infant away from the warmth of her left side to pass her carefully over. For a moment, her palms felt light, empty, and cold.
"She's called Priscilla," Gaia said.
Masister Khol looked at her curiously. "Thank you. That's good to know," she said.
"You're going to have a busy time ahead," the tall soldier said. "And what, you're only seventeen, isn't that right?"
"Sixteen," Gaia said.
She felt suddenly, inexplicably ill, like she might throw up. She gave a quick smile, switched her satchel to her other shoulder, and turned.
"Good-bye," Masister Khol said. "I'll send your compensation to your mother's place in Western Sector Three, shall I?"
"Yes," Gaia called. She was already walking down the hill again, her legs not quite steady. She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them and touched her fingers against the dim building beside her for balance.
The moon's light seemed less powerful now than it had before she stepped into the glow of the lantern, and blink as she might, she could not instantly make her eyes adjust to the darkness. She had to stand, waiting, just around the corner from the gate with its gleaming lantern. In the stillness, she could hear crying from somewhere near, a soft, lonely crying. Her heart stopped. For a moment she was certain that Priscilla's mother was close by in the shadows, ready to plead with her again, or accuse her. But no one appeared, and in another moment, when the crying subsided, Gaia was able to continue down the hill, away from the wall, toward home.
BIRTHMARKED Copyright 2010 by Caragh M. OBrien
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 / The Baby Quota,
Chapter 2 / A Small, Brown Parcel,
Chapter 3 / Rapunzel,
Chapter 4 / The Folded Triangle,
Chapter 5 / Shepherd's Purse,
Chapter 6 / The Obelisk,
Chapter 7 / Noon,
Chapter 8 / Life First,
Chapter 9 / The Doctors of Q Cell,
Chapter 10 / Blueberries in the Unlake,
Chapter 11 / The Gilded Mirror,
Chapter 12 / A Pigeon Visits,
Chapter 13 / Birthmarked,
Chapter 14 / A Crime Against the State,
Chapter 15 / The Yellow Pincushion,
Chapter 16 / Cooperation,
Chapter 17 / The Baby Code,
Chapter 18 / One Chance,
Chapter 19 / Jacksons' Bakery,
Chapter 20 / Forty-Six Chrome Spoons,
Chapter 21 / Happiness,
Chapter 22 / The Women of the Southeast Tower,
Chapter 23 / Maya,
Chapter 24 / A Perfectly Circular Pool,
Chapter 25 / The Tunnels,
Chapter 26 / White Boots,
Chapter 27 / Trust,
Chapter 28 / Returned Property,
Pondering Questions from Author,
Preview: Vault of Dreamers,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Set on the shores of Unlake Michigan, this dystopian world has me hooked. Following some kind of environmental fallout that resulted in not nearly enough water to go around, the difference between the haves and the have-nots grows much more pronounced. What used to be the northern United States becomes something resembling a feudal city-state. The have-nots in Wharfton, where Gaia lives, depend on the "good people" of the Enclave for water to survive. And a bleak survival it is. Gaia and her parents do alright; there are only three of them and both her parents work, her mother as a midwife and her father as a tailor. Gaia's new status as a full midwife should have brought her family the Wharfton version of luxury: plenty of water and extra passes to the local entertainment center, Tvaltar. The Enclave also could not exist without those in Wharfton. Though there are bakers, tailors, and other services available right inside the wall, the people of Wharfton provide much of the labor and services the Enclave requires. And the babies. The people of Wharfton also provide Enclave families with babies. At first I thought this was going to be a situation like that in The Handmaid's Tale where most women become sterile and those who still can are pressed into service as babymakers. That is not the case here, though why the Enclave needs Wharfton babies remains a mystery for most of the book. Many people on both sides of the wall believe, like Gaia herself, that the children sent to the Enclave are simply lucky, even while their parents are left heart-broken; they have a chance at a much easier life. The Protectorat, the ruling class of the Enclave, have a much more complicated need for children born in Wharfton. Luckily (not really) Gaia is caught pretty early on on her attempt to rescue her parents and so gets to meet the key people behind the "advancement" program. After Gaia is captured in the Enclave, where she has no right to be, she learns so much more about the history of her society and world than she could have imagined. She learns just how the Enclave uses those in Wharfton and the vital part she and her mother play in that relationship as midwives. She learns that her parents, who she trusted implicitly and thought she knew inside and out, hid very important things about themselves and their family from her. She learns what they hid about her own past. And during all of this acquisition of knowledge, she makes some unlikely allies inside the wall and, of course, falls in love with an especially broody, high-ranking member of the military who seems to hate her and yet find her interesting. It's a lot for one girl to go through. And it's all a set-up. It was an emotional thrill ride the whole way through with an ending just barely satisfying enough to not make me want to tear my hair out. I can't wait for Book 2. Book source: Philly Free Library
I really enjoyed this book after a few chapters. I was slowly drawn in by the story of Gaia and her determination to fight for what is right, not just what is popular. I loved how the little pieces of her past start to fall together. I have the second book on it's way, should be here tomorrow, and have already pre-ordered Promised. I look forward to reading Prized! I think it was a great book to follow The Hunger Games Trilogy. If you liked this book you'll LOVE the Divergent series!
Loved this book. Couldn't put it down. A total must read!
I fell in love with cover of this book, its amazing and matched the story perfectly. The only problem I had with it was that it was very interesting and captivating, then it wasn't, then it was again. Other than being a little jumbled, it was great. Gaia is a very well created character, she's real and fights for whats right and lets nothing stop her.The story's ending hints a sequel, so I'll be looking out for it.
REALLY good. Its another great dystopian novel. It starts out slow, but then exceeds to a point full of suspense and anticipation. I recommend this to fellow teenagers as myself. Hope you enjoy it!
It is so good they will make a horible movie about it ;)
In my opinion, writing a good dystopian novel can be tricky. First you¿re building a world on something that already exists - our world. Next, you have to take a part of our world, skew it, then write about it, but in a way that makes the reader think that this could happen, especially given the current state of the world. This is usually what I look for in my dystopian novels and I found it in Birthmarked by Caragh O¿Brien. Birthmarked opens up with a birthing scene - a very gutsy move. Gaia, a young midwife, delivers her first baby; significant because it¿s the first time she¿s doing it on her own and because it lays the path for the reader to learn about the Enclave, the baby quota and the world that will be explored in Birthmarked. After delivering the baby to the Enclave, Gaia heads home to find her parents have been taken to the Enclave for questioning. The mystery builds as Gaia questions why her parents were taken, what record the guards were interrogating her about and why her mother hid a ribbon with strange symbols on them. Caragh does a great job at describing Gaia¿s world and situation. Gaia¿s home and all the places she travels to are carefully described, giving the reader a three dimensional view of the world. Once Gaia makes it into the walls of the Enclave the action is almost non-stop, like a wild ride with just enough pause for you to catch your breath and the right amount of twists and turns to keep you intrigued. There is a splattering of biology in the narrative, but it is so well-weaved into the plot that it does not read like a science book. For the shipping enthusiasts there is a bit of romance which, while not necessary to the plot advancement, does a good job at adding layer of charm. What I liked best about this book was the questions that it raised. It¿s a great book to open discussions on prejudices in society, hierarchy and class. It also opens questions about the way we use our limited resources and what might happen if we aren¿t careful to care for the world we have. While these are great questions, I appreciated the way that they were subtly intertwined in the narrative. There was no blaring agenda, the questions rose organically from the story and I appreciated this greatly.
I just finished the book and it was amazing! If you like books like Hunger Games and even Maze Runner, this book is for you! It keeps you guessing the entire time. I finished the book in two days!!!
Caragh O'Brien explores the bonds of kinship in a deteriorating dystopian society that brings to a head many provocative themes, and forces us to ponder some difficult questions and even more troublesome answers. In Birthmarked, three hundred years into the future, humanity's survival depends on diversity. But the citizens of Western Sector Three don't know that. For countless years they have been sacrificing their select newborns to the Enclave for basic necessities, never to see them again. One girl will unravel the mystery and thrust these two societies into chaos. Birthmarked was such a compelling read because it's chock full of substance. O'Brien's world is one of obedience. Where the technology, the advancements of a bygone era, hydroelectricity, computers, and the means to grow food are all controlled by the Enclave. Their rules are harsh and unforgiving to those that disobey them. Those outside the walls live a simple life, largely uneducated and supply.babies to the Enclave unknowing that genetic defects are so prevalent within the upper castes. O'Brien does not purposely soften the tone of her story merely because it is young adults who are her audience. Rather the adversities that Gaia Stone goes through in Birthmarked, bonds the readers to her plight. When Gaia starts to unravel the mysteries that are left to her after her parents are jailed, she must confront the consequences of her actions. What ultimately happened to the babies that she and her mother "advanced"? What became of her two older brothers? What does Leon want with her? What is the significance of the tattooed "freckles" and worse, how will the Enclave use that knowledge especially as their situation worsens? She has the power to destroy or join together both societies.will she do it? There is harsh death as well as the balm of new life within O'Brien's world, which makes it realistic and meaningful. I have read plenty of YA dystopian novels but none of them can come close to the subtly expressive and thought-provoking themes that Birthmarked contained. I was enthralled from the first page, contemplative, and reveling throughout the entire story. It was simply an amazing debut read. Every reader will want to accompany this courageous heroine on the journey to discover exactly what she is capable of, unravel the mystery of the coded ribbon, and whether she can step unfettered into the future. I definitely want more and am anxious to find out what happens in the next book! A Fiendishly Bookish Review
I have read the whole birthmarked triology. Though the books have interesting characters, a good back story, and a solid plot line, the books are just to sad.
Fast read. Enjoyed it. If you liked The Hunger Games and Divergent series, you'll like this. Not as good as those series but good.
This boo k was amazing i love the how ou see Gaia perspctive of th Enclave change from one thing to another. And qwhen she meets Leon i melted. You could tell from the start that he would.... not gonna spoil it. What Gaia does for her family is truely amazing she did everything she could. Once i started his book i wouldnt put it down for food or homework. Ieven read it while in science class once. If you like Hunger Games hen you will try love this. Same themes love rebellion it is truely spectacular. Elyse 13
Wasn't sure I was going to like this one until I got past the first few pages and it left me wanting more. the book keep you looking for more. the next book is just as good if not better. the only Con I have is having to wait for the 3ed book to come out. if you liked Divergent you'll like this one also.
I really liked this book. I immediately bought the second book in the trilogy and loved it too! I can't wait for the third book. It has an interesting story line and is a good example of dystopian literature. If you like the City of Ember series or the Hunger Games series - it is the same type of literature. My sons and I are enjoying these books and I would recommend them to others. I think this series would be good for a book club - lots of interesting discussion points.
Great book! Interesting story idea, variety of characters and fast-paced plot. The characters were well developed and I could really feel their struggles and understand their motivations. I also liked that the heroine was brave and fierce when necessary without being brittle or losing her compassion. I would recommend this book and am looking forward to #2 in the series!
Really impressive debut for a first novel. In the first chapter, I was a bit annoyed at Gaia's naivete, but as the plot unfolded, I understood her innocence and enjoyed her eventual realization of the flawed society she serves. I found Gaia's determination to find out the truth about her parents and their arrest, as well as the motives for the Enclave's way of life quite engaging and thought-provoking. I was pleasantly reminded of the classical dystopian novel, "The Handmaid's Tale", due to the author's use of red uniforms for servants, etc., and the Enclave suffering from the lack of viable children due to genetic issues. I also loved the mysterious character of Leon Grey and the roller-coaster romance that developed with Gaia. I would recommend this for young adults and older who enjoy dsytopian novels. Can't wait for the sequel, Prized.
Gaia Stone is a midwife who has learned all her skills from her mother - how to deliver a baby and how to calm and comfort a mother whose child will be taken from her because in Gaia's village the first three babies born each month have a special fate. Three children each month are "Advanced" and pulled from their homes in the slums to be raised in the Enclave, destined to have better nutrition, education, and opportunities they would be denied outside the city walls. Gaia has never questioned her life or her duty, but when her parents are taken to the Enclave and Gaia herself is interrogated about her mother's work, she begins to see beneath the surface of the life she has always known. Suddenly the strange tattoo of four small dots on the heel that her mother has given to every baby she delivered gains a new significance and it is up to Gaia to unravel the mysteries around her when her own life is at stake.Caragh M. O'Brien captivated me with Birthmarked. The dystopian world she created has just enough echoes of modern society to be realistic, but the future portrayed is a bleak and chilling one. I loved the way that science and genetics were blended into the story to create a tale that is as smart as its heroine. Gaia Stone manages to be intelligent and innocent, sweet but also strong. It is the dichotomy of her character that pulled me into the narrative and kept me hooked from start to end. Her relationship with Leon, the captain of the guard within the Enclave, was also handed beautifully. In a genre peppered with love and first sight or cliche triangles, their interactions of animosity turned mutual respect had layers of complexity that I really appreciated. This is Caragh O'Brien's debut young adult novel and I eagerly anticipate more great work from her in the future. Birthmarked is the first in a planned trilogy with Prized to hit shelves November of 2011, and a third yet untitled book to follow in 2012.
I wish that I'd known before reading this book that it was part of a series, then when I got to the end I wouldn't have been so disappointed. I did like it, mostly, but it was a huge letdown to have read the whole book, only to find that it didn't end well at all. I will probably look for the second book, but not very hard.
I thought this book was wonderful! I was drawn in from the first page and it held my interest throughout the entire story. Birthmarked is so unique and beautifully written, I really hope there will be a sequel. I would love to know what happens next.I would definitely recommend this book to everyone.
This is an excellent, well-written young adult book that takes place in a distant, dystopian, post-oil future. 16-year-old Gaia has just, after apprenticing with her mother for years, delivered her first baby on her own as a midwife. This baby is the first of a quota of infants she must deliver to the Enclave, the walled compound she lives outside of, each month. When Gaia returns after handing the baby over, she finds that her parents have been arrested and disappeared into the Enclave. When she decides to go and find them, she starts on a journey in which she will eventually find not only the truth about her parents, but answers and new questions about the rigid society in which she lives, as well. A very interesting, thoughtful book with a strong female heroine. Highly recommended, and I look forward to read more by Ms. O'Brien. Five stars.
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.
Really enjoyed this one. A well thought out future earth. The story and characters were very engaging. A couldn't put it down read. :)
From page one you are entirely captured in the story, and that alone makes O'Brien a freaking genius. Not many books can do that. From the first page we see our sixteen year old protagonist, Gaia delivering a baby on her own for the first time. Not only that, the baby is taken away from the distraught mother and given to the enclave as part of the monthly "quota" of three babies per month. Immediately after all this, Gaia goes home to find her parents were arrested, and no one can tell her why. From the beginning to the end, I couldn't put this one down.Gaia was a great main character. Her family means everything to her and she would do anything for them. She always did what she thought was right, and when she finds out she has been wrong, she immediately tries to make it right. She is unbelievably brave for a sixteen year old. I like that Gaia has the scar on her face, even though it's terribly sad why she has it. She wasn't the cliche girl with no confidence, but somehow everyone else seems to find her gorgeous. She had a real flaw, and for that it made me love her even more. Beauty is so within the flaws!Birthmarked also had an amazing cast of supporting characters. They were all well developed and added purpose to the scenes they were in. I really enjoyed the budding relationship between Gaia and a certian Captain Gray. I could just tell from the first encounter that there was something there, and I was dying to find out when something was going to happen between the two. Of course, the possible romance was just a side story in this amazing plot.This world that O'Brien has created was unbelievably there and realistic. I was so into the idea of the enclave living behind their wall. They don't let the outsiders in, but they sure do use them to their own advantage. Every element that was added, the "cool age", the unlake, the advanced babies . . . it all felt like it actually happened when you are reading the book. The amazing plot was perfectly paced to where you couldn't put it down, not even at the end of a chapter.The ending left off with some cliffhangers that made me seriously mad the next book is not out yet! Birthmarked is by far one of the best dystopians I have read, and that is coming from someone who loves dystopians. To me, it was right up there with The Hunger Games. Just a fair warning though, there are some pretty emotional scenes that will be tugging at your heartstrings. Birthmarked was a fantastic debut that has become one of my favorite reads this year. It is one not to be missed!
In a world damaged by climate change, where water is a scarce commodity, Gaia is a midwife who's perfectly happy to obey the rules. She delivers the first babies born each month to the Enclave, where she believes they'll have a better life as the adopted children of the wealthy elites. But when her parents are suddenly taken in for interrogation and don't come back, Gaia finds herself questioning all her beliefs and ultimately rebelling against the system.This is definitely a thought-provoking book, and I think it would make for a great group discussion--I'd love to talk about it with someone. And yet there were certain points where I wasn't quite satisfied; I felt like the societal problems were more nuanced than Gaia acknowledged, and I couldn't fully accept that the system was irreparably broken. At the risk of going into too much detail for those who haven't read the book: Gaia comes to believe that taking away newborn babies from their parents is wrong, but when talking to someone who was himself adopted into the elite, she says that she believes his life was better for it. This belief that adoption is good for the baby seems to be common among the populace, and as long as it persists, I'm not convinced that it's impossible to reach any sort of compromise. Despite a couple of high-up men who do abuse their power, we see that there are plenty of good people among both the poor and the rich. So I'd like to have seen some exploration of ways to make the society work for everyone involved, rather than what seems to be the standard response in these kinds of books: run away from it all into the bleak unknown.Still, the fact that I found myself so engaged in the societal problems speaks highly of O'Brien's world building skills, and I look forward to returning to this world when the sequel is released. I'd recommend Birthmarked for anyone who enjoys a good YA dystopia.
This was a fantastic dystopian novel. It had some of the same edge as the Hunger Games trilogy without the gore.