Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Synopsis from Goodreads:
IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future.
In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother's footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.
A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.
This is a great dystopian novel with many layers, and many twists, turns and surprises. It was different from what I was expecting but nonethless brilliant- a very moving and very clever book.
Birthmarked is set in a futuristic world where all that is left of society exists in a city protected by a wall, and the refugees living outside the wall. The residents of the city, although well off with plenty to eat, have become sickly and prone to genetic defects through inbreeding, whereas in comparison the people scrounging a living outside the city walls have become tough and resilient. Gaia has been raised outside the wall in home where they have very little in the way of money, food or posessions, but full of love and joy in her family. It is the only life she has ever known and she is happy. Although only sixteen years old Gaia has followed her mother, the midwife of that section and has learned the trade competently enough to be confident at attending births on her own. However, because of the problems within the city, the government has demanded a quota of babies from outside the city walls to be adopted and brought up by families within the city, in exchange for a supply of clean water, other provisions, and the freedom to stay living outside the wall. It is Gaia's duty to serve the Enclave, and deliver the first babies born each month, and she does this without question, just like her mother before her, who also had to give up two of her own children. When one day Gaia returns home to find that her parents have been arrested, and that she is wanted for questioning about their treason, Gaia's life changes forever.
We are only very gradually drip-fed little pieces of information about a rebellion involving her family that Gaia had no idea about. So we are very gradually introduced to the lies and sheer scale of what is happening in the Enclave the same as Gaia. As Gaia is swept up in the politics of the society and imprisoned for information that they think she knows, we see her steadily transform from a very sweet naive and accepting girl who serves the Enclave unquestioningly, into a tougher, smarter girl ready to fight for whatever she thinks is right. She has to solve her father's secret code leading to information about the identities of the children raised within the wall, she has to form alliances and make new friends, break into government buildings and all sorts of other exciting challenges.
Gaia is the star of this book- all the other characters are secondary. She stands out for her unflinching goodness, and positive willingness to help others, even when she considers herself inferior because of her scarred face. She is also brave, and willing to face hunger and prison and scaling the walls if it means saving her family. There is one scene where she helps a newborn baby that has nothing to do with her, even when it means risking being captured herself. Captain Grey is always in the background trying to offer her support and advice, and Gaia stubbornly refuses to understand why he might help her, because of her scars and lower status. They work well together, and seem to bring out the best in the other. But my favourite moment in the story is a memory that Gaia treasures of her and her parents picking berries one morning- because it really hits home how close they were as a family, and what she has lost- and contrasts with Leon Grey's memories of his cold upbringing with money and priveledge but also the pressure of high expectations.
Little Gaia becomes the key to the mystery surrounding the adopted babies, and the first threat to the power of the Enclave. I really enjoyed this book and was completely drawn into this world. The writing is beautiful and full of description so that you feel like a part of this harsh futuristic society, and grow to really love all these amazing characters. This novel is believable, moving, and harrowing, but with sweet characters that you can't help but root for and fall in love with.