An ARC of "Birthmarked" was gifted to me by my friend, so I feel kind of bad for giving this book such a low rating, but at the same time I don't want to sugar coat it either. The thing is, "Birthmarked" is not one of those horrid books that I despise for awful writing or atrocious characters ("Evermore" and "Hush, Hush" come to mind). It is not bad, but it is simply boring and unremarkable. To be honest, only a marginally interesting premise kept me skimming last 200 pages of the book instead of giving up on it completely.
Gaia Stone is a 16-year old midwife in training in a small village near a walled city called Enclave. At the beginning of the book Gaia assists in birthing a baby and an hour later "advances" it, meaning she takes the baby from its mother and gives it over to the Enclave guards to be raised inside the city walls. Even though the mother of the child is in tears, Gaia advances the baby without any hesitation, this is a part of her job and she knows it's a right thing to do. When later that night Gaia reaches her home, she is told that her parents were arrested and are now imprisoned within the city. The girl doesn't understand why it happened, the only clue to their possible discretion is a hair ribbon covered in mysterious symbols that Gaia'a parents left behind. What follows is Gaia's quest to find her parents and uncover the importance of the ribbon.
I think the first major mistake the publisher of "Birthmarked" makes is that it markets it as a cross between "The Handmaid's Tale" and "The Hunger Games" which happen to be two of my favorites. Trust me, it not even close to either of these books. It lacks the depth and emotional impact of the first and non-stop action and hot teenage romance of the second.
Even more, both the characters and the dystopian world are not sufficiently developed.
Gaia is a very flat heroine. Her main characteristics are: a huge burn scar on her face (the emotional implications are explored only superficially), her ability to get various people to help her by simply asking (even prison guards are always willing to answer her questions and demands, imagine that!) and naivete akin to that of a 10-year old. How this girl ends up getting a mature guy by the end of the story is a mystery to me.
The world of Enclave misses the mark too. I recognized many aspects "borrowed" from "The Handmaid's Tale" (the colored uniforms based on the professional occupation, the titles - Masister, genetic and ecological problems, etc.), but even that is not enough to create a convincing dystopian reality. For a regime that is supposedly totalitarian and oppressive, the Enclave comes off as rather nonthreatening and lax.
All this combined with the general slowness of the story, uninteresting characters, lack of convincing action, conflict, or romance, and absence of any kind of emotional impact that dystopias are known and lauded for, make "Birthmarked" a pretty mediocre read. I might be in minority in my assessment of this book, as there are many 5-star reviews of it, but I am quite positive that even though some fans of sci-fi/dystopian YA might enjoy this novel, it is definitely not the next big thing.
P.S. Almost forgot, the book has an ending, but it is extremely open for a sequel.