Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

Another book review for the Summer 2014 Reading Challenge. I’m trying to get caught up with my reviewing before the first check in on 1st June!

I read this book for the category “Read two books with antonyms in the title”, which is worth 30 points. The other book I read for this category was The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell (Antonyms: Birth and Death… I just hope it’s okay that birth is only part of a word…)

book3The plot:
Birthmarked is the first in yet another Young Adult fiction series set in a dystopian future. There seem to be a lot of them about (The Hunger Games being the most obvious, but there’s also the Dilerium series, the Divergent books – the first of which has now been made into a film – The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, the Matched trilogy… I could go on, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the point!).

The story takes place about 300 years in the future, in a post-climate-change world where the lakes have dried up to become “unlakes” and water is a valuable commodity. In this world, there are those who live inside the “Enclave” – a walled city filled with rich privileged people and modern conveniences, like running water and electricity, and those like sixteen-year-old Gaia – the main character – who live in the small town outside the Enclave. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing over the first few born each month to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia herself has a scarred face as a result of a childhood accident, meaning she was never advanced herself as the Enclave only wants perfect, healthy babies. Gaia had always believed serving the Enclave was her duty and the right thing to do, but all that changes the night her parents are arrested by the very people they’ve served loyally for so long. Now Gaia begins to question everything she’s ever known. But in the end, her choice is simple: find a way to get into the Enclave and rescue her parents… or die trying.

My review:
First of all, I must confess that the only reason I bought this book is because it was the first one I found with the word “birth” in the title that sounded even vaguely interesting. And now, on with the review…
I loved the start of the book! It leaps straight into the action with Gaia attending her very first birth as an actual midwife, rather than her mother’s assistant. Immediately after the child is born, Gaia takes it from the mother in a heartwrenching scene and hurries to the gates of the Enclave to advance the child within the allotted timeframe. Gaia then returns home to find her parents gone and a soldior waiting to question her. The only clue is a piece of ribbon containing a code, given to her by her mother’s assistant. As the days go by and Gaia’s parents don’t return as promised, she decides she needs to get into the Enclave and rescue them so they can all escape together. At this point, things get slightly unbelievable… in the space of a few pages, Gaia goes from being the Enclave’s most loyal servant EVER to somebody who is willing to break every single rule in the book without a second thought. Obviously, she needs help to do this, and it seems as if almost everyone she comes across is willing to help her for no other reason than she asked nicely – saving Gaia’s parents certainly wasn’t going to benefit them! She also seems incredibly naive and ignorant. Her parents have clearly been withholding information, presumably to protect her, which makes sense, but the fact that she seemed never to have questioned anything in her world ever until her parents were arrested annoyed me slightly. Yes, openly questioning things might have been a bad idea, but by the age of 16 you would expect her to have had at least some doubts. At the beginning of the book, she does seem to have a tiny moment of hesitation about taking away the woman’s baby, but I felt like it stemmed more from it being the first time she had attended a birth alone than any real doubts about whether taking a baby away from its mother is actually justified, no matter what the circumstances. Having said that, I did quite enjoy the book. Enough happened to keep my interest throughout a two hour wait for a flight and I did genuinely want Gaia to save her parents. I desperately wanted the parents to live so I could learn more about them and how their subtle attempts to undermine the system (like keeping records of birth even though it was forbidden). I feel like the parents were more interesting characters than Gaia herself, even though they’re already gone by the time the story starts! I also enjoyed the various flashback scenes to Gaia’s childhood, and especially the parts about the relationship between Gaia and her father. The book ends on a cliff hanger (so obviously setting up for the sequel!) and I think I might actually read the next book, if only to find out whether Gaia becomes slightly more interesting… Not my favourite book, but I liked it well enough and I can see how it would appeal to its actual target audience. (Also, there are no sparkly vampires, which is always a plus ;-)). I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.