Everything a gripping dystopian should be in terms of action, adventure and plot;
has wonderful characters who grow through adversity;
gives powerful insights into what is most important in life.
*The Good Reading Guide found book 1 in this series (Birthmarked) excellent, but book 2 (Prized) quite different. Before deciding whether or not to read Birthmarked, it may be helpful to also read the review for Prized.
A dark future world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those - like sixteen year old Gaia Stone - who live outside. Gaia was trained as a midwife by her mother, and it's now her job to 'advance' a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave. Gaia has always been an obedient citizen, but when events reveal new information about the Enclave Gaia is determined to find out the truth and protect those she loves.
Gaia had a wonderful upbringing; her parents' depth and wisdom nourished her character so that she was ready to face difficulties with courage and selflessness. I loved the flash-backs to her childhood which show a beautiful relationship with both parents and the profound moral wisdom they passed on to her. On one occasion someone has stolen their animals, and her father surprises her by not being angry but forgiving the thieves, who 'must have been very hungry'. On another Gaia's mother is regretting having given her first two children to the Enclave as required by law; Gaia would excuse her for not having had a choice but her father corrects her: 'You always have a choice, Gaia, you can always say no.'
After ploughing through the self-serving false heroism of The Hunger Games series this advice should be shouted to the four winds. If only we heard it more often.
With a bad physical scar from a childhood accident, Gaia struggles to not only accept her appearance, but to acknowledge that the pity she loathes in other's eyes may in fact be sympathy; she sees she must learn to trust herself to others and not keep a barrier around herself.
There's a beautiful respect for life, maternity, newborn babies and children, and for so many other qualities like the dignity of work, of relationships, and the rich beauty of a multitude of characters choosing what is right. (***This is quite different in the sequel Prized)
The relationship between Leon and Gaia is realistic but perfect: their love grows for all the right reasons, they learn so much about each other and their flawed but earnest characters are the antithesis of Edward/Bella sentimentalism and Katniss/Peeta falseness. These two truly demonstrate sacrifice.
Younger readers should be aware of a few slightly confronting birth scenes (one right at the start), though I considered the realism a fitting setting for the weighty themes, giving life-like depth to the characters. There are also references to a serious occurrence in Leon's past that requires maturity and objectivity and may be misunderstood by younger readers. The context shows that Leon's actions were not culpable but there were still serious consequences including the suicide of a mentally ill young teen. Yet even this event was treated with delicacy and dignity, and stimulated further growth in the characters.
The story itself is original, tightly written and moves at a fast pace, and truth be told it's impossible to put down. Once finished, the long wait for the sequel begins. What a surprise to find a contemporary dystopian that's rich and deep and inspires such hope in adversity.
Reviewed by Clare Cannon
In the enclave, your scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future. In the future, in a world baked dry 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 handing 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.