Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien
“It’s kinda like A Handmaid’s Tale got lost in Panam.” – My sister’s quick explanation of the book Birthmarked.
My sister is rarely wrong and once again, she hit the nail on the head. Birthmarked is the kind of book that fans of The Hunger Games will adore. If you are sick and tired of the whole YA dystopian fiction thing, but perhaps are interested in issues of human rights, women’s rights, the rights of the child, climate change or class struggle, I suggest you still give Birthmarked a try.
The book is set four hundred years into the future where the Earth’s climate has changed. The land is much hotter and dryer. The community where the action takes place is on the northern shores of Unlake Superior. That technically sets it in modern day Canada – just saying. The wealthy and privileged people live in a walled city called “The Enclave.” Inside the walls, there is plenty of food, water, music, art, and colour coordinated outfits. The über rich people wear white. They are like royalty. Regular Enclavians (Enclaveites? Enclavers? Whatever) wear blue and the working class wear red. Life is great in the Enclave except for one major problem. Children in the community are being born sick and often not living much past the age of ten. If only there was a way to get new, healthy babies! More on this later.
Meanwhile, outside the wall, there is a community of people who live to serve the Enclave but never get to go inside. They are generally poor and work very hard to make a living for their families. The protagonist, Gaia (Guy-ah) is a 16 year old midwife. (She delivers babies) Every month, she, like all the other midwives outside the wall, hand over the first three babies born to be ‘advanced.’ That means the babies are taken and given to adoptive families INSIDE the wall to be raised as their own. The babies are given everything they could possibly want and grow up well fed, educated and wealthy. The mothers and fathers outside the wall get paid for their babies and parents who get upset about having to give up their children…well, they kind of disappear.
Gaia starts to realize the Enclave isn’t the happy-lovely-perfect-land she was taught about when her parents are mysteriously arrested by the Enclave. Now Gaia needs to get her parents back and in the process, she learns the truth about her society and the horrors that go on inside the wall.
I liked this book. It is about 360 pages long but it’s a fast read. I already am looking forward to reading the sequel. Some critics have said that this book is a rip-off of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. There are a lot of similarities – A LOT. In my humble opinion, that’s okay though. A Handmaid’s Tale is a great book and if you read Birthmarked, and you like it, I suggest reading AHT as well! I would argue that Birthmarked is geared towards a younger audience and therefore makes a nice bridge for YA readers who are interested in reading more adult books like Atwood’s.
Birthmarked has all the hallmarks of a good YA dystopian novel: a seemingly utopic community that has evil lurking, a strong, spunky protagonist with a bit of a back story, a character that shows up early in the book who seems to warn the protagonist of future problems but is ignored, a totally predictable love story, a lot of people selling or buying bread…wait, that’s not really a hallmark of the genre, but there IS a lot of bread in this book.
There are a few points where I just wanted to shake Gaia and yell “you’re a smart girl! Think about what’s going on! Figure it out already!” but perhaps that’s just the old curmudgeon in me.
Try the book. I don’t think you will be disappointed!
-Masister A (This will make more sense if you read the book — oooh, incentive!)