I have been on a dystopian kick lately, so I was very happy when I cleaned out a bookshelf and found a forgotten ARC for this novel. Birthmarked is Caragh M. O’Brien’s first novel for young adults and she has hit it out of the park. I read a lot of dystopian, and I’ve read a lot lately, and this has quickly risen to the top of my favorite’s list. It had me on the edge of my seat throughout the story and left me guessing at many turns.
Gaia is a midwife, like her mother, though she is still in training. When the book opens, she is delivering her first newborn without her mother’s assistance. All is well until she must take the infant from its mother. The Enclave, within the nearby city walls, demands a quota of babies each month- the first 3 delivered by each midwife. The babies are taken from their parents outside the walls and brought to the Enclave, where they are adopted by the wealthy families inside and brought up as their own. Gaia has never questioned this routine. Then, her parents are mysteriously arrested and taken away. She must break into the walled Enclave in order to rescue her parents and soon finds herself wrapped up in secrets and lies that no one has ever considered. As the story rises, the imperfections of a “perfect” race and the dangers of and genetic manipulation becomes more and more engrossing. Gaia is forced to make difficult choices to save herself and her loved ones.
I couldn’t put this down. Gaia is a realistic character whom I felt like I knew. Her thoughts and emotions were so real that I found myself completely wrapped up in her story. She is forced to make heartwrenching decisions that led me to question some of my own thoughts. I also loved the slight romance that she and one of the Guard captains find themselves involved in. It’s not enough to turn off my macho readers but it’s just enough to rope in some of my romance readers.
Birthmarked would be a great read along with The Giver or during a study of the Holocaust. The Enclave’s quest for genetic perfection brings up some unintended consequences beyond the obvious. Birthmarked will also lead to some great discussions. Highly recommended for middle school and high school classrooms!
Note- my cover looks nothing like the current cover. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ARC cover and the new one is much better!
*ARC courtesy of the publisher