Sunday, May 30, 2010

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien Review Posted by Tina @ Tinasbookreviews

March 2010 by Roaring Brook Press Hardcover, 320 pages
Purchased Copy

Book Synopsis

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.......(GoodReads)


A mother after hours of labor gives birth to a beautiful newborn, exhausted from labor but thrilled to be looking at her child, quietly sips her tea. After only moments of happiness, fear and anger rip through her body as Gaia marks, bundles and leaves the mothers home to hand over the beautiful newborn to the go's life in the world of Birthmarked, children are payments to the government and babies are in high demand. In this dreary, dark and crumbling society, questions will arise for the reader many thought provoking scenarios such as, humanity, civil rights, child bearing and incestuous breeding. And not since Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, have I felt an author writing to the YA audience provoke such tough questions in the sense of human life and personal freedoms.

After the arrest of her parents Gaia works against the clock, trying to sneak into the enclave, rescue her mom and dad and escape to the forest, but like all good plans with the best intentions she is caught and jailed. Gaia will have to cooperate with the enclave officials if she ever wants to see her parents alive again and she must unravel a code that is near impossible. Little does Gaia know that her parents fate have already been handed down, that her life will soon take a turn of inevitability and that she might along the way just find a love that is worth fighting having children for.

A little slow getting started I found myself immersed in this world and enjoyed the entire story. An amazing debut showcasing a strong, somewhat naïve, but ultimately brave character.


Birthmarked is a fantastic dystopian novel that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Violence, intense action, mild blood and gore, social and political commentaries, mild adult content including fertility and "adoption" are all topics touched on in this novel. Suitable for 15 and up.

3.5/4- YA- Dystopian

BWB Discussion Questions

1.When reading dystopian, the scary aspect is thinking, "Could this happen one day?" Did you ask yourself this while reading Birthmarked? Do you think a future like this is possible?

I think its possible something like that in a dystopian novel could happen....I think that's the draw to these novels, its taking the worst possible scenarios and putting characters through hell- or to know that however terrible things might get, the human spirit is always stronger than the horrors and will overcome.

2.How did the puzzle aspect of the story work for you? Did you figure out the code or was the explanation a surprise? Does this element work for you in a story or is there one you like/appreciate more?
The puzzle made the story more intriguing for me as a reader, I was surprised when she discovered the code...because I had no clue. Of course it was a bit far-fetched but I still liked that once revealed could make sense in the world of Birthmarked.

3.Gaia follows in the steps of her mother as a midwife. For Gaia in the beginning its service and only later does she realize what taking the babies signifies. Can you put yourself in the mothers role, what would you do if Gaia tried to take your newborn?

Well I am a mother and in the world I live in....I would fight Gaia to the death for my baby, but in the Dystopian world view, I would hope I had the strength to fight Gaia and flee to the Dead Forest.......Sometimes the scariest thing is a mother protecting her young.

4.Gaia feels ugly because of her scar and unable to fit in within the wall (enclave) because she wasn't perfect. Do you think finding out that her parents lied to her [about how she got the scar] was able to move the story along??

I knew from the beginning that Gaia's parents hurt her....I'm thinking it was very drastic, perhaps they could have picked a better spot, say her arm or leg...why the face people? I thought it fit well with the story but did nothing to move the plot along.