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March 5, 2010 / schulerbooks

Birthmarked

One of the newest emerging genres in the Young Adult area are Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic books. We can thank the success of books like The Hunger Games for this trend. If it allows for the publication of books like Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, I am completely on board.

On the edge of Unlake Superior a city called Wharfton has formed around a walled off city known as the Enclave. Gaia Stone is a 16 year old midwife in Wharfton. When she was a baby she was hideously scarred on her face by melted beeswax. All the midwives are expected to advance a monthly quota of 3 babies to the Enclave for compensation. Gaia’s mother passed down the tradition to mark the babies with four distinct freckles to remember her two older advanced brother, Arthur and Odin. One day her parents are arrested and Gaia vows to find out why. Even if it means defying the Enclave.

One of the things I enjoy about the Dystopian genre is the freedom that authors have to write horrible, abominable things. It seems that the more terrible they are the more they work within the story. There are some truly horrifying things that happen in this book. The events described in this book are grotesque and atrocious. One particular scene made me feel nauseous, it was that well described. As awful as that sounds I actually consider it high praise to this type of book, that it had the ability to horrify and surprise me. When I gasp out loud multiple times I know the author is doing their job well.

So what makes it work so well? Is it the content of the story, that an unnamable organization controls their people right down to who they can have children with… is it the characters who undergo such traumatizing pain and come out that much stronger for it? Is it the ability of the writer to string all of this together in a book that provokes such a reaction from the reader?

Whatever the formula is it works and should not be tampered with. This book resonates. It glows. It pries into the reader’s brain and inserts claws. It is, quite simply, one of the most impacting and memorable books I have read for a long time. And despite all of the intensity, all of the shock factor, all of the pain and anguish there are lighter moments as well….beautiful little vignettes of Gaia and her father picking blueberries… soft descriptions of life outside the wall that tweak and make one think of childhood… and one of the best, most creative disguise descriptions I have read to date. I’ve seen it compared to The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale… I don’t think I can, in good conscience, compare it to anything. That does a disservice to a book as fresh and inventive as this. It is it’s own, unique, story…It stands alone. If I was to give it a big glamorous pitch I would call it “an intense Dystopian genetics suspense thriller”… but without that I would just put it into people’s hands and say “you need to read this book. It will tug at you, and you need to have this book in your head.”

I am impatient for a sequel. I want more from this author and this world. I want to be surprised again. For now though this has easily become my favourite book of the year. Hands down.

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, releases March 30, 2010.

-Krys Tourtois, Schuler Books and Music Eastwood

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