Thursday, May 23, 2013

Birthmarked (Birthmarked #1) By Caragh M. O'Brien

Review By Jacey

Birthmarked (Birthmarked, #1)IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future. 

In the future, in a world baked 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 hand 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.

So I picked this up, first thinking how awesomely eerie the cover looked, second that the excerpt on the back (which describes the main character performing a c-section on a woman who's just been hung) sounded equally creepy, and third, because I am an avid admirer of sci fi and dystopian literature. When I started reading it, I was ENTHRALLED by the elegance in vocabulary and description; not over the top but just enough. Even when I began to feel a few pricks of annoyance towards our main heroine's sporadic thought processes, which flip from subservient midwife in the first 30 pages to raging rebel some odd pages later, I was geared up for the eventual unveiling of what REALLY went on in the Enclave. Because, you know, that's usually what happens with a seemingly perfect society in literature, there's like some big secret that shocks the reader some way, it could enlighten us or frighten us, or even disgust us. Anyway, this could just be one blogger's opinion, but i feel like the awesome thing about dystopian novels, or maybe just novels that lean towards sci fi, is the shock factor when we find out what's going on behind the scenes, or even in front of our noses. As I hit page 200 though, I began to realize that this shock was never to come. In fact, this book seriously pretty much unveils the nastier side of the Enclave within the first few moments that Gaia passes through the Wall. Not only that, but the reader pretty much knows what the "Big Secret" is by Chapter 13, and can pretty much predict the rest of the book. All it is is going from point A to point B from there. 
***************************************************SPOILERS******************************************** But, not really...even so if you're still interested in this after reading my initial description, please scroll down to the number of suns I give it and make your judgement from there.

Anyway, what I thought was really aggravating in this book was how dumb the government behind the Enclave seemed. i mean, first of all, if you form an Enclave in a post-apocalyptic world and the author claims it's an "advanced" society, how could they miscalculate how many people they would need in order to diversify the gene pool? And foremost, WHY WOULD YOU NEVER KEEP BIRTH RECORDS OF THE BABIES YOU'RE LETTING INSIDE??? I mean, duh, of course there's going to be inbreeding if you don't keep track of that. I mean, even in this world we have birthing records, and you would think that in a smaller, more dense society which prides itself as advanced AND what it's author AKA O'Brien purports it as, would also make them smart enough to prevent inbreeding. 

Going back to the whole not-so-surprising elements in this story; the purpose behind the blue ribbon was pretty much said at the beginning of the book, and while I was reading, I was mentally thinking "ok, I get it, the Enclave wants the family records...what else is there?" And I kept waiting for that 'what else' until about page 200...when I realized there was nothing else to be known. There was no secret. This was going to be one of those books where I wasted my time watching the characters running around from point A to point B for the rest of the the book (it's 361 pages). What made it more infuriating was that the writing itself was very sophisticated, and actually really well done. I just felt that O'Brien had played all of her plot cards, and then occasionally would throw some unneeded spontaneity in character's personalities. Not only does Gaia show some erratic mental changes, she suddenly gets the entire society within the Enclave to question what's going on, and people are suddenly wanting to help her out, even though she's not the first one to break in and be seen. Yes, her actions with the woman with the inbred baby (who gets passed off by the heroine's male counterpart to the frickn black market. Gaia breathless thanks him) were heroic, but still, there's not way after this place has existed for about 600 years that people would suddenly start helping her out, which happens often in this book. 

Speaking of inbred babies; O'Brien also creates some REALLY muddled emotions between characters. Like ok, I'm glad that Gaia saved that baby, and yeah, it's kind of messed up that the Enclave wants to control who people marry, but...isn't that better than having potentially miserable and messed up babies? Yes, people should marry who they love, and is execution a valid mode of punishment? No, and now you've killed two people who could have found other partners and thus diversify the population (another stupid point goes to the Enclave government). Still, I found myself feeling like "well, no Gaia, I don't think people should love their brother and sister if they're going to have very unhealthy inbred children." I apologize if I'm being really insensitive, but I couldn't help but see the Enclave's view on this, on wanting to strengthen the gene pool in a post apocalyptic world. Which I don't think the author intended. Additionally, characters' personalities towards the end of the book just seemed to change suddenly and completely in such an inappropriate way that I couldn't help but think maybe the author just in the mood to write venomously and chose that character to speak as such.

Finally, our main heroine's character just comes out flat for almost the entire novel. Her sporadic mood changes just don't portray any growth that she made in the novel. Additionally, I kept finding myself saying "Ok, Gaia, we get it, you've these delivered babies to the government without question before, oh no, what have you done, we get it, you regret it," like the reader hadn't heard it the first time. It would have been ok if it was written in a way that she was feeling regret habitually, but no, the author writes every one of these moments like it's a revelation to both Gaia and the audience, EVERY. TIME. It's so repetitive that in the last stretch of the book, I fell asleep three times before I could finish it. I'm not gonna lie, I forced myself to skim the last few chapters. I felt like I was wasting my time, already knowing what was going on and what was happening. I hate giving this book a low score, because O'Brien's writing style was so neat, and her vocab was just gorgeous. According to the About the Author note, this is her first Young Adult novel, so maybe I can give her a break, because the language was definitely up there, but all in all, the ideas and emotions between characters were heavily disorganized. Maybe younger audiences will enjoy this. I'm not interested in the next book, unless I hear some REALLY good reviews. The idea behind this was really good, and I'm sorry that the author couldn't seem to utilize its full potential.

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