Friday, April 6, 2012

Birthmarked review

by Caragh O'Brien
Roaring Brook Press
March 2010

Set in a dystopian future, 16 year-old Gaia Stone lives with her family near "Unlake" Superior. Under her mother's tutelage she is training to be a midwife. Their little village of Wharfton lies on the outside of The Enclave, an enclosed city of power and privilege. Like all midwives, she is supposed to "advance" the first three babies born every month to the Enclave where they will be raised by adoptive families.

There's a common trope in dystopians of the heroine who has completely drunk the Kool-Aid and is only just now beginning to realize what is obvious to everyone else - that everything is not what it seems, and not what it should be. When Gaia's parents are arrested under suspicion of being involved with an underground rebel movement, and after an intimidating interview by a security officer who comes to her home, she takes over her mother's work as the sole midwife in their district. I liked O'Brien's invented terms of address: mabrother and masister, instead of Mr. or Ms. - it does give a pleasantly alien feel to the world.

Gaia has a scarred face from a childhood accident - it's made her very self-concious and isolated her from many of her fellow villagers. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it's eventually revealed that her parents burned her face on purpose, as a way of ensuring she wouldn't be taken from them and sent to live in the Enclave the way her two older brothers were. To their credit, when they finally reveal the truth to Gaia, they admit that they absolutely did not think things through and hadn't realized how it would negatively affect her life for so many years to come. Most of Gaia's memories of her parents are very happy ones and she comes to forgive them. Gaia is still certain that she looks hideous however... whenever she describes herself, I picture this:

Two-Face, not  looking so good.

One of the characters reassures her, "You get used to your face. I always watch the pretty side of you now, and the other side sort of vanishes into a blind spot." When Gaia begins pressing for answers to her parents disappearance and meets with Leon, an insider who helps her break into the Enclave to look for clues, who eventually becomes a love interest for her, it seems like he sees her more like this:

Tina Fey's scar: so cute, it's practically a dimple.

Once Gaia is on the inside of the Enclave, she's able to decipher a complex code left behind by her father to determine the adopted children's heritage - something which has been kept secret.

I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but the ending of the book felt a little too pat to me - as Gaia makes her escape from the Enclave she's nearly captured several times and some amazing coincidences enable her to avoid the guard's attention. She's also smuggling out a baby, and I was surprised that the baby is so cooperative - luckily the baby never cries at an inopportune moment, and Gaia is never hindered by having to hold onto the baby as she stays on the run. 

I'm already digging in to the sequel however, because I can't wait to find out what happens next! Normally, I hate a cover change... but in this case, I like both of the covers a lot, maybe the paperback cover even a little more than the original. Several intense and harrowing childbirth scenes make this a good choice for older teen readers.

I borrowed this book from the library.


  1. Oh you teased us by foretelling of the ending, but it sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It was really hard to talk about the ending without giving too much away! Suffice to say, it's a LOT more complicated than that... but I can't say anymore.

  2. I love this review! Very funny :)

  3. Horrible spoiler on her scar



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