the blog of a librarian, book reviewer, and pop culture fiend
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'brien
I read Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien (Holt, 2010) because Melissa Rabey told me to, and the only thing I trust more than her taste in clothes is her taste in books. Once again, Melissa proves she can pick a winner, something both trendy and stylish.
The premise: Gaia (first syllable is pronounced like "guy," not "gay"), sixteen, is the apprentice to her mother, the sector's midwife. Gaia and her parents are mostly happy with their simple life outside the walled city called the Enclave. Gaia looks forward to learning more about midwifery. Every month, the first three babies born that month are brought, or "advanced," to the Enclave. Gaia doesn't like this ritual but she knows it's the law. She doesn't think that anyone has done much to act against the law until she comes home one night to an interrogation. Her parents are gone, arrested, and she must carry on her mother's work by herself in order to make a living. She can't deal with the lack of information about her parents and finds an underground group that can help her enter the Enclave. While in the Enclave, she performs an extraordinary feat: She delivers a full-term healthy baby from the body of an executed prisoner. Now she is simultaneously hero and criminal. Either way, she knows she has to get to her parents and rescue them from the Enclave. An unexpected ally in the form of an attractive young soldier with his own dark past joins Gaia when she is asked to break a code that could give the Enclave the key to saving many of its residents from genetic diseases.
What you'll love about it: Gaia kicks ass! Okay, well, she kicks ass as much as any other human would in her situation. In the face of danger she stands up for herself even when she's scared. It's not enough for the love interest to be hot; he was to be able to keep up with her. Gaia has an admirable sense of loyalty to those she loves and to the profession of midwifery. Through most of the book, she is hunted and has to think on her feet. She also comes face-to-face with the cruelty behind the Enclave's government. It does upset her, but it also inspires her to learn more about her own past and what her parents' work in their town did that got them arrested. I see more than one Katniss Everdeen comparison in the future.
Most likely to succeed? I know this book has a few things against it in terms of making the big sales: a striking but not bright-on-black cover, straightforward science fiction, no paranormal creatures to romance with. It has quite a lot, though, in its favor: A well-built dystopian world, fascinating and damaged people, and captivating writing that mixes action neatly with world-building. And as we know in the literary world, good writing trumps all. I'd love to see this show up on the Morris Award shortlist, as it definitely shows excellence by a first author.