Friday, June 4, 2010

Review - Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien (4/5 stars)

I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.  I enjoy dystopian novels and thought that this young adult take on a dystopian future sounded interesting.  It was a pretty good book with some interesting ideas.  The author mentions on her website that she is currently writing a sequel to this book, which makes sense because many issues are left unresolved.

Gaia is training to be a midwife just like her mother.  Her family lives outside the Wall.  Inside the Wall lives the Enclave, a group of privileged individuals who help run the world outside the Wall.  The only thing that the Outsiders need to do is meet a baby quota.  The first three babies born each month get sent to the Enclave to be raised in privileged positions.  It is supposed to be an honor to have your baby sent Inside.  Then at Gaia's first solo birth the mother pleads to keep her baby.  It starts Gaia thinking...this is followed by the mysterious arrest of her parents.  It is up to Gaia to find a way Inside to save her parents; on her journey there she finds that life on the Inside may not be all it appears to be.

This is a pretty good dystopian young adult book.  I was a little surprised at how secluded the story was.  The whole story takes place in a small area with a limited amount of people.  There isn't a lot of mention about how the world became how it is, although Gaia mentions something about a climate change at one point.  Gaia was an okay character but I didn't find her to be especially engaging.

The ideas presented in this novel were interesting but not all that unique.  Many dystopians are set up so that there are a privileged few and the masses provide for those privileged few.  Where this book differs is in the requirement that babies get sent to the privileged few.  Even more interesting is the idea that this baby donation is actually serving a vital role in keeping the gene pool of the privileged from becoming inbred.
There are a number of moral questions thrown at the reader.  The whole concept of giving up your child at birth for the better good is huge; this leads into the questions of whether or not children separated from parents at birth should be able to contact their parents later.  Also the age old moral questions of separating humans into separate classes to have them function better.  The book also touches on things such as forced breeding and planned matches for marriage based on genetic screening...of course this has been a big topic in lots of sci-fi literature.

A big deal was made about the "birth-marking" that Gaia and her mother performed on the babies.  While this definitely plays into the story, the idea of it having the huge influence that it did, didn't work well in the story for me.  While the writing is engaging, I thought the plot was a bit choppy.  It was almost like the writer was trying to throw too many ideas at the reader and didn't work through any ideas completely.

The story is pretty serious in nature and there is not a ton of action.  Gaia's love interest is an okay character, but we don't get to know him all that well and his actions towards Gaia are very inconsistent.

Overall I enjoyed the book but I thought there were a lot of unresolved things.  I liked that a lot of interesting moral issues were raised, but was disappointed that they weren't built upon or resolved.  If you like dystopian books this is a pretty good read.  Not nearly as good as The Hunger Games or the Tripods series.  The author does state on her website that she is writing a sequel to this book; at this point I am not sure if I will read that one or not.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The Debut Author Challenge
- The Young Adult Reading Challenge
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge

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