Thursday, 4 August 2011

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Birthmarked by Caragh O' Brien
First published by Roaring Book Press in 2010 (this edition by Simon & Schuster UK in 2011)

Book #1 in the Birthmarked series

Description (from Goodreads)
After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents are arrested.
Badly scarred since childhood, Gaia is a strong, resourceful loner who begins to question her society. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she herself is arrested and imprisoned.
Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where one girl can make all the difference, and a real hero makes her own moral code.

My thoughts
Birthmarked I had first seen on Becky's blog when she featured it on some post or another (I really can't remember now...). Anyway, the cover really drew me and I decided I had to get it sometime. It was nearly 5 months after I first saw it that I came round to actually buying it and another 2 before I got round to reading it.

Obviously, I had realised that there would be some marking of children at the time of birth in the book and that it would play a rather important part in the whole story (as if that wasn't pretty clear just by looking at the title). The story was really easy to get into and, to be honest, even though it is mentioned pretty early on, I hadn't realised how the birthmarking fitted into all this and when it took place.

The main character, Gaia, is a really strong and well-developed character. She is a sixteen year old girl, living on the wrong side of the Wall that separates the Enclave from the Outside. Gaia is a midwife and, at the beginning of the book, we find her on the first ever birthing she has had to take care of all on her own. Which means that she will have to advance the baby she helps the woman give birth to, as each midwife has a certain quota of babies that they have to 'advance' every month. On that same night, Gaia goes home to find out that her parents have been arrested.

What is great about Gaia is that she is a very self-conscious character, and not in a bad way. She has been scarred since birth and prefers to hide it (meaning that she is uncomfortable with her appearance), but it has not hindered her in any other way. She has gone through quite a bit of suffering (and taunting and ostracism) through the years because of her scarring, but that didn't seem to have shaped her as a character in making her a meek and will-less girl. Instead, she is a very strong main character and is very determined to be as good as possible at what she has chosen to be - a midwife.

The other characters in the book haven't got such a strong presence. The focus of the story is mainly on Gaia. We meet lots of different characters along the way, who get close to Gaia because of some situation or another, but none who are steady throughout the book, maybe excepting Sgt Leon Grey, who makes some appearances during the first half of the book, but is a more constant character during the second half. (Plus, I just loved him as a character! And the name Leon is such a nice name.)

There was quite a bit of information about biology, heredity and DNA in this book, which was an essential part of the story. At some point in the novel, there was a simile, where chromosomes where likened to chrome spoons. It was a rather interesting way to explain it, to say the least. But, there were also some parts of the explanations about things biological that were a bit off. A very main concept in this story is that of haemophilia. For those of you who don't know (and so that I can show off what I know!), haemophilia is a rather rare hereditary disease, which can cause death by excessive bleeding, even from one little scratch. Haemophilia is brought on by the absence of certain genes, which encode for the proteins that are necessary for the blood to clot (hence the excessive bleeding). What might not be common knowledge about haemophilia is that it is more common in boys than it is in girls, due to the fact that the genes in question are located on the X chromosome (of which boys have one and girls two). That means that if a boy gets the 'bad' X chromosome from his mum, then he will definitely get haemophilia, whereas if a girl gets the 'bad' X chromosome from her mum and a normal one from her dad, she will still be all right, though she will also be able to pass it the 'bad' chromosome on to her sons. That did not seem to have been very well explained in the book. Another thing that also wasn't mentioned was the fact that girls who did have haemophilia tended to die when they were young, even if they were very careful not to get scratches or wounds, and the reason for that was the arrival of their 'monthy courses' (for want of a better phrase).

I'm really sorry for that awfully long biology lesson, but I have to put my degree to good use. All in all, Birthmarked was a really good book, lovely to read, with a storyline that just kept me reading and reading. I loved the ending, which was a teeny bit cliffhanger-ish and I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Prized, when it comes out later this year!

Rating: 8/10

Caragh O'Brien is an American author from Minnesota. She holds an MA from Johns Hopkins University and used to work as a high school English teacher. She has now given up teaching so as to be able to write full-time.
You can fin out more about Caragh and her books from her website.

Read for the: 100 Books In A Year Challenge 2011, Dystopia Challenge, 1st In A Series Challenge

1 comment:

  1. You've got me excited to read this book now! I'd put it in the next round of T.A.B.B but there are some books I need to read first :(

    You put your degree to brilliant use, Phaneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (This is me pronouncing your name correctly) :) I knew a bit about haemophilia already, but some of the stuff you said, I had no idea about (which is good to know before I read the book)


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