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Birthmarked [Hardcover]

Caragh M. O'Brien
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 30 2010 Birthmarked Trilogy (Book 1)
IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future.
Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

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"Readers who enjoy adventures with a strong heroine standing up to authority against the odds will enjoy this compelling tale." School Library Journal

“A wonderful addition to the dystopian genre.” —

“Reminiscent of both 1984 and a Brave New World, this gripping page-turner is a perfect intro to futuristic, dystopian fiction . . .  Readers accompany the novel's inspiring heroine on an undertaking brimming with danger, intrigue, and romance.” —

“O’Brien’s  . . . impulsive and spirited heroine . . .  is the kind readers adore.”Booklist

“This science fiction adventure is a brisk and sometimes provocative read, thanks to solid pacing, a resourceful heroine, and a few surprise twists.” Publishers Weekly

“Well-written and fast-paced.”VOYA

“In grand dystopic tradition.” —Kirkus Reviews

"It was a very good book that made me think."Abby, age 12

"I love dystopian futures. Birthmarked is great dystopian future."—Sam, age 16

About the Author

Since earning an MA in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, Caragh M. O’Brien has been a high school teacher, an author of romance novels, and now a novelist for teens. Her novels Birthmarked and Prized were named YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults.  Birthmarked was also a Junior Library Guild Selection and chosen for the ALA 2011 Amelia Bloomer List.  She lives with her family and writes from her home in Connecticut.

More about the author and her novels can be found at

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow Feb. 5 2014
By T
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I LOVED this book. I was sucked in by the first four pages and it kept me going till the last page. I really enjoyed the story and thought it was original. I have recommended this book to others and they loved it too. It's good stuff!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too Jan. 12 2010
Gaia (Guy-ya) Stone is following in her mother's footsteps. She has been training to be a midwife for years and is ready to accept her role in the community. For as long as she can remember, life on the outside of the wall has been this way.

The first three babies of the month are advanced to the Enclave to be adopted and live their life inside the wall. While the pain of losing a child is great, the mothers know that their baby will be living in a community with conveniences not available to the people living in Wharfton, like electricity and running water.

Gaia doesn't know what to do when her parents are arrested and taken by the Guard of the Protectorat. She finds it hard to believe that her parents know anything the Enclave would want to know, but by the questions they ask her when she comes home to find them gone, they think her parents have important information. Gaia is completely in the dark. The only thing she has to go on is the long piece of ribbon with a strange code sewn in it that her mother's assistant gave her and told her to keep secret at all cost.

Gaia's life becomes a complicated game of cat and mouse as she attempts to get inside the wall, find her parents, and solve the mystery of the coded ribbon.

Caragh M. O'Brien has written a wonderful addition to the dystopian genre. Readers get a glimpse of life in the 2400's after a drastic weather change has dramatically reduced the human population. Even though the world is completely different than the one we live in, the problems Gaia encounters are very similar - she enjoys time with her family, likes socializing with friends, and is insecure when it comes to love.

BIRTHMARKED is fantastic. I loved it and stayed up much too late because I couldn't put it down. It definitely deserves the Gold Star Award. The author leaves the ending open for a sequel, and I for one can't wait to see what happens next.

Reviewed by: Karin Librarian
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5.0 out of 5 stars It won't let me go Sept. 24 2011
I stayed up til 3:30 this morning to finish this book. Oh, it was completely worth the lack of sleep, and I still feel enveloped by the story of Gaia and the Enclave.

This is another one of those "easy to read and follow" books. Some parts of the book was so filled with suspense that my heart raced, and I could barely breathe. Other parts left my knees weak, and I could feel butterflies fluttering from my belly to my toes and back up to the top of my head.

Yes, this is one that will stay with me for a while. The second book (Prized) is already pre-ordered! Oh, November is so far away!! Such inhumane torture! :o)

Loved the book!!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  259 reviews
104 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful sci-fi distopian YA novel March 4 2010
By S. Power - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Gaia's world is outside the wall. She is a midwife and those outside the wall are required to give up three of their babies to the enclave inside the wall where they will live the privileged life every month. When Gaia's parents go missing she suddenly questions her existence and the rules that her society has always followed. She breaks into the enclave and finds that things there aren't as perfect as they've always seemed.

As the story continues the moral story of a perfect race and the perils of inbreeding and genetic manipulation (with an elementary genetics lesson wrapped in) becomes an engrossing one and Gaia has to make difficult choices to save herself and do what she knows is right.

Gaia is a wonderfully strong teen heroine. She fights for what's right and won't let anyone or anything stop her. If you liked Katniss from The Hunger Games and Tally from the Uglies series you'll love Gaia.

The ending is complete yet leaves space for a sequel which I will be thrilled to purchase.

Appropriateness: There isn't any subject manner that will annoy adults. No drinking, drugs, sex or graphic violence. The romance is sweet and the herione is the type of girl that parents would like their daughters to be.
77 of 95 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing special here April 5 2010
By YA book lover - Published on
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.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not amazing, but not bad June 8 2010
By Tabitha - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I enjoyed this book fairly well. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it, either. I think, really, that I won't know how I truly feel about this story until after I've read the next book, because it's obvious there will be a next book. But I am intrigued enough to *want* to read the next book, which is a good thing.

Gaia's character is very naïve and accommodating, sometimes too much so. But she wasn't raised to believe anything was potentially wrong with her way of life, and she trusts the Enclave implicitly. So I found this part of her personality believable. Her journey to discover what the Enclave is really like was both interesting and appealing, and her motivations fit the story well. She didn't grow as much as I was hoping, but perhaps that will come in the next book.

Some of the plot elements didn't make logical sense, like the lack of record keeping or the level of genetic testing available to the Enclave. I didn't quite believe that the Enclave could do certain types of genetic testing, but not others. And, considering how important genetics are to the Enclave, someone, somewhere, would have kept some kind of minimal record keeping of the advanced babies. At the very least, they would have kept track of the babies who were related to one another. Also, the Enclave's obsession with appearance and need for certain genetic backgrounds seem too conflicting. But, perhaps that will be further explained in the next book.

Still, I'm curious what will happen next, and will definitely read the next book. I'm hoping then I will be able to form a more solid opinion of whether or not this is a story I can recommend.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clearly in the minority, but I feel it could have been better Nov. 23 2011
By navyblue - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
*Contains spoilers*

I just finished Birthmarked. The premise is quite good: an accepted and largely uncontested baby quota, a midwife marking the babies in secret and keeping some kind of record, and a looming, exclusive society inside a large wall.

Sadly, the book did not deliver. The story feels awkward and ill-done.

My main issues as I was reading were:

1. The foundation for the society as a whole.

We get that the Enclave rose up after some kind of environmental disaster. The founders created a community that appears to have most of the advances of our day (called the cool age in the book): electricity, computers, running water, and indoor plumbing, though it sounds like the women mostly wear cloaks and dresses. It seems to be a fairly self-sufficient city, we know they have a factory to manufacture some kind of mycoprotein food item, but we are left to assume that they also have the means to manufacture computer parts, light bulbs, clothing, fuel, and more. It's difficult to suspend reality when you're always wondering how people eat or where they get their water.

The sectors outside the wall don't seem to be needed for any kind of product (other than babies), and Grey hints that those outside the wall arrived after the Enclave was built and 'leeched' off the system. We're told that those inside the wall sneer, somewhat, at the 'lowlifes' outside, yet their babies are desirable for genetic diversity.

It's unclear as to why the larger city inside the wall would have diseases as a result of intermarrying where those outside the city would not. Aren't those outside the wall also marrying each other? Or are new people coming through the 'wasteland' and adding to their populace?

I felt the society itself and how the peoples viewed each other could have been more richly described; more realistically constructed. I wanted her to build me a world, but all I have is a city on a hill with a settlement around it.

The Enclave is not a clear enemy. And perhaps the author intended it that way, but it made it difficult for me to rally behind the protagonist, behind the... purpose.

2. The purpose.

The Enclave's entire purpose is to diversify the gene pool. The baby quota seems like something that should have had a more sinister feel to it; one that would have required a pretty powerful propaganda machine to achieve, yet that doesn't seem to have occurred. Gaia's father explains it with more of a shrug and a 'it's for the greater good' attitude. Though how those outside the wall benefit (other than receiving some meager payments and believing their children will be better off) is unclear. We are supposed to believe that the Enclave is the enemy -- a controlling, police-state dictatorship. I guess. But while there are hints of the Protectorate being tyrannical and evil: video surveillance, executions, people disappearing, disowning Grey, etc, there are ONLY hints. There is never really anything meaty to sink your teeth into so you can get behind Gaia.

Gaia's purpose is first, to rescue her parents and protect the secrets they have entrusted her. She gives up the secrets somewhat easily -- which I found very confusing. Her mother was incarcerated and would have been able to decode the ribbon, yet must have resisted because the secret was important. Yet Gaia gives up the secret, and to what end? Why was it important not to give them up? Did Gaia's mother not want the children reunited with their outside parents? Did she not want to give the Protectorate more power? For... what, exactly? He rounded up some people with freckles for tests... and this was super bad because why? I don't know. Because everyone would be forced to marry certain people to breed the best babies? Where was the rebellion? The people angry at this? The masses who should unify behind the protagonist to overthrow the supposedly terrible, evil government? Nowhere.

Her purpose later became to rescue her mother, which she did, kinda. Then her purpose became to get out with her sister and escape to the mythical Dead Forest. We have no idea if she achieves this as the book stops abruptly after lots of non-descriptive running (no labored breathing, no fear, no explanation about how difficult it would be to run with an hours-old infant) and somewhat of a cliffhanger. Wilderness. Baby. Formula. The end.

3. Character development.

There didn't seem to be much groundwork laid for Gaia's transformation from an impoverished, oppressed, uneducated child from outside the wall to someone questioning the Enclave and breaking laws. And even during all the law breaking and escaping she still seemed to lack resolve and direction. She accused Grey late in the book of having every advantage by growing up inside the wall. She tells him not to tell her that his life wasn't perfect. What? At this point at least, she should be more aware of the enemy -- then again, we aren't aware of the enemy at this point either, so I can see why Gaia is confused. Conflict is needed for character development, but the conflict is all smoke and mirrors. It's not really there. The guards and soldiers are pretty cooperative and nice, prisoners seem fairly well treated. Gaia escapes relatively easily. It feels like there are stabs at character development and conflict, but they fall flat, or go no where.

4. The ending.

As I stated, it's abrupt. The author says on her website that she never planned on continuing Gaia's story, but it sure seems that way. However, based on the negative reviews to the sequel, and the weird "bridge" book, a story arc for a trilogy doesn't feel very well planned.

I'm not going to bother with the sequel. I don't think I can bring myself to read about Gaia waffling about in another oppressive society where, I'm sure, even more plot lines will be abandoned and hung out to dry.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the effort April 6 2010
By Heather - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As someone who has read numerous works of dystopian fiction I have discovered that most have a standard set of elements: an elevated level of society seemingly perfect only to discover that all is not as it seems, a lower class being exploited and chaffing under the oppression of self righteous and often heinous rulers and a notorious group renegades hiding out somewhere in the wasteland. "Birthmarked" contained all of these elements but failed to deliver them in a new or exciting way.

Gaia is 16 year-old girl training to become a midwife. Set in a dystopian society 300 years into the future, Gaia lives outside "the wall" where there are no accommodations of modern technology. As is required, Gaia must deliver the babies born to those outside the wall ; however, her job is not just to deliver the babies: it's to take the first three of the month to the city within the wall away from their families, to "Advance" them. Gaia has never questioned the mandates of the world in which she lives until she has to advance a baby herself, until her innocent parents are taken away, until she sees the injustice that happens behind the wall. Gaia's only wish is to get her parents back, safely outside the wall, and then flee to the Dead Forest, which may or may not exist, but when she finally gets in, a series of events makes her question what is really right, who she loves, and what she lives for.

"Birthmarked" sounds intriguing, but somehow fell flat. The Enclave isn't scary, Gia isn't well rounded, and the story itself is dull. There are better reads.
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