Thursday, July 7, 2011

[Review] Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Title: Birthmarked {goodreads}
Author: Caragh O'Brien
Publication (dd/mm/yy): 01/05/11
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Publisher, for review
Age: 14+ Moderate violence
Pages: 360
My Rating:

Summary:
In the future, in a world destroyed by the harsh sun, there are those who live in luxury inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside – struggling to survive. Each month the people outside the wall must deliver a quota of babies to the Enclave, to be raised by parents within and brainwashed to forget about the world outside.

This is the way it’s always been, and the way Gaia thinks it should be . . . until her parents are arrested on suspicion of hiding a code; a code revealing the secrets of the “advanced” babies. Realising she is her parents’ only hope for survival, Gaia ventures inside the wall to rescue them. But she soon discovers that the Enclave is not as perfect as it appears; the gene pool has become too small and genetic irregularities are developing – something the brutal government wants to stop. At any cost. Can Gaia break the code and discover the truth, before it’s too late?
My thoughts: 

"THOSE MARKED WITH A CODE WILL DETERMINE THE FUTURE. ONE MARRED BY A SCAR WILL UNRAVEL THE PAST."

What a fantastic debut! I regret not having picked this book up earlier; if I had known how heart-racing, thought-provoking and mind-bending this book was going to be, I definitely wouldn't have delayed. A bit rough around the edges, editing-wise, as might be expected of a debut author, but still well, WELL worth my time.

In BIRTHMARKED, resources have depleted, leaving societies that do not prioritise to perish. There is the Enclave that thrives on its lush and beautiful landscape and government, home of the priviledged and the Advanced. Outside those walls lies poverty in Wharfton - this is where the story really begins. Gaia Stone follows her mother's footsteps as she pursues life as a midwife, where they are the only two n their district. But then Gaia's parents are arrested, and it's time for Gaia to break in to the Enclave.

For me to determine whether a dystopian novel is of quality or not, I tend to consider pacing, world building, character "relatability" and likeability, as well as writing style. I can assure you that Birthmarked really hit the mark with me. What's really outsanding about this book in particular is the mysteries that unfurled. O'Brien had the foresight to really think about how these would look and how they fit in with the story, and they WORKED.

Gaia Stone is bold and intelligent, but also insecure and incredible stubborn. I actually really liked her character despite her naivety and brashness. Her background is revealed bit by bit as you go along, as it should be. There IS a romance, one that I enjoyed. I won't discuss though, because part of the fun of it was the mystery that surrounded it.

Her parents are strong and intelligent people, and though we never get to meet them, there are so many instances in the novel where they are focused on in relation to the mysteries.

"She could do this. She must, somehow. She would think of her father and his sewing things and his capable, wide-knuckled hands. She would use every hint she had and try to read her father's mind. (p. 194)"
The Enclave and Wharfton seems at first such an alien place, but O'Brien settles the reader into it so that it's not too overwhelming. A map is provided, which was a lifesaver. I don't know what I would have done without it. Some things that are off about this world in particular is that technology and life seems to have pedalled BACKWARDS. I guess given the circumstances (lack of resources due to the harsh sun), it doesn't seem so far-fetched.

All in, BIRTHMARKED is an extraordinary debut novel, and its unique exploration of the future and the unknown is effortlessly paired with the mysteries that unfurl with every page turned. Gaia Stone's life in Wharfton provides a stark contrast to those who live in the Enclave. The relationships O'Brien forms with Gaia are well developed for a debut author. Despite the shaky writing style, which can be forgiven for its adequate pacing, BIRTHMARKED is a book highly recommended for fans of Dystopia, the genre on the uprise.




Quotes:

First lines

"In the dim hovel, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining, push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia's ready hands."

Favourite quote

"As he [her Dad] turned slowly to face her again, his eyes retained a lost, ashy glow. "You always have a choice, Gaia. You can always say no." His voice was strangely hollow. "They might kill you for it, but you can always say no."
She didn't understand his intensity, and he was frightening her. "What do you mean?" she whispered.
He took a long, slow breath and seemed to remember where he was. "It's all rght, Gaia," he said. "There are some things, once they are done, that we can never question, because if we did, we wouldn't be able to go on. And we have to go on, every single day." He smiled, more like his old self. (p. 112)"



Buy:

Live in Australia?
Fishpond * | Readings | Dymocks | Angus & Robertson | Borders | The Nile

Live elsewhere?
Amazon | The Book Depository


Links:

Author Site
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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

Challenge: Debut 2011 Challenge (AU release)

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