Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

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

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude

In 2067, a virus struck the earth.  Killing 97% of the male population meant women were forced to take over the world.  Thirty years later, Kellen is a teenage boy in a world full of women.  The supervirus, Elisha’s Bear, has periodically reared its ugly head again and again over the past 30 years killing men who live in outback towns and small loner communities.   The world is better off than it was before Elisha’s Bear- no war, crime is al at all-time low, and women are strong and confident.  Kellen has resigned himself to his limited future as a male when he eavesdrops on his mother, who happens to be a high-ranking member of the Population Apportionment Council.  She and her boss are plotting a new outbreak of the virus aimed toward a community of “throwbacks” (loner men).  The problem?  That community includes Kellen’s father. With two new female friends, Kellen manages to escape to warn his dad.  iIn the process, he uncovers the shocking truth behind Elisha’s Bear.

Epitaph Road was a great book to read after The Giver and Unwind. It’s not as strong as the aforementioned books, but I really enjoyed it. One of my favorite parts of the book were the epitaphs that begin each chapter. Many of them left me wanting to know more about the men they were dedicated to. Some of them were haunting.

I immediately fell into the book while reading the prologue. After that, it seemed to slow down a bit. I was left wanting more until Kellen escaped from Seattle and managed to find his father. At that point, I couldn’t put the book down! The novel raises a lot of gender questions that could lead to some great debates. I could imagine my own students defending the choices made by certain characters while condemning those made by other characters.

I am happy to report this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls alike. The protagonist is male but the two supporting characters are female. It’s full of adventure and has a touch of romance- enough to tantalize some readers but not enough to send others running for the hills. Patneaude seems to have the ending open for a sequel so I look forward to that. I can see this being very popular with my students, most of whom are in a dystopian phase.

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

If you liked The Giver, then try…..

Thank you for all your suggestions of dystopian literature!  I added many of your suggestions to my wishlist.  Below is the handout I gave my students after we read Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

If you liked The Giver then try…..

The companion novels: Gathering Blue and The Messenger by Lois Lowry

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Candor by Pam Bachorz
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfield
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
  • The Other Side of the Island
  • Life As We Knew It (and the rest of the Moon series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  • House of the Scorpion
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Healing Wars by Janice Hardy
  • Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
  • 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Ear, The Eye, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer
  • White Mountains by John Christopher
  • The Maze Runner by James Dasher
  • City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  • The Declaration by Gemma Malley
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman

After passing this list out, many of my students started highlighting the books they want to read.  It was wonderful to watch!