Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
"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." (from Goodreads)
The subject: a girl determined to do what she thinks is right, even if it goes against the society's wishes.
The setting: a dystopian society trying to combat hemophilia. I appreciated that the author made neither the Enclave nor the rebels on the Outside the ones in the moral right, but showed complexities to both of them. Also, I liked that the author hasn't made the society very stupid (as can sometimes occur in dystopian books in order to allow the rebellious protagonists to succeed) — she's put up plenty of roadblocks for the main characters. They've actually had to tough it out and think for themselves.
Shutter speed: snappy! While there isn't a ton of action, the mystery and romance kept the story going fairly quickly.
What's in the background? The cute romance between Gaia and Leon. I thought they were a great pair, and the moments where they flirt and joke with each other are really sweet. While the relationship got kind of sappy towards the end I was definitely pulling for those two to get together. The tension between them is drawn out nicely (at least until the dynamic turns kind of weird in the climactic scenes, which will be discussed more below).
Zoom in on: Gaia's flaws. She comes off as a bit of a Mary Sue — strong, courageous, always saying the right thing. Everyone seems to like her and want to help her (except for the bad guys, obviously). She sometimes jumps to conclusions too easily but it doesn't seem to come back to haunt her; things don't go easily for her, but that's usually not due to her own mistakes. I think there's room for improvement in showing more of Gaia's immaturity and the consequences of that, and in also demonstrating rather than telling us about her character development.
Anything out of focus? The climactic scenes. They felt rushed and not as well thought-out as the first 3/4s of the book. I thought there were parts where it was over-the-top into farcical — definitely suspend-your-disbelief time — in terms of the drama going on, and characters started acting out of character, which bothered me. Spoilers, highlight to read: the way Leon was taking commands from her for a while was weird, because of the two of them he'd always been the decisive leader. And then later, she was just letting him decide stuff and following him around, becoming really dependent on him, which I did not think was flattering because she ended up sounding whiny.
Also, I had difficulty visualizing all the technology in the Enclave being mixed with the historical feel of Outside — it's a real juxtaposition. I'd like to know more about how this huge divide happened. Some of the modern terms used ("mom", "boyfriend", "computer") also feel out of place with the old-fashioned vibe.
Ready? Say... genetics!
Click! 4 shooting stars. Not without its faults, but overall an absorbing read that had me glued to the pages. I'm hoping some of the "debut author signs" — like telling the reader about a character's emotions, and too clearly demonstrating the author's intent for what I should be feeling, both of which left me lacking an emotional connection — will improve in subsequent books.