Birthmarked (Birthmarked Trilogy Series #1)by Caragh M. O'Brien
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
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.
Read an Excerpt
BIRTHMARKED (Chapter 1)The Baby Quota
IN THE DIM HOVEL, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia's ready hands.
"Good job," Gaia said. "Wonderful. It's a girl."
The baby cried indignantly, and Gaia breathed a sigh of relief as she checked for toes and fingers and a perfect back. It was a good baby, healthy and well formed, if small. Gaia wrapped the child in a blanket, then held the bundle toward the flickering firelight for the exhausted mother to see.
Gaia wished her own mother were there to help, especially with managing the afterbirth and the baby. She knew, normally, she wasn't supposed to give the baby to the mother to hold, not even for an instant, but now the mother was reaching and Gaia didn't have enough hands.
"Please," the young woman whispered. Her fingers beckoned tenderly.
The baby's cries subsided, and Gaia passed her over. She tried not to listen to the mother's gentle, cooing noises as she cleaned up between her legs, moving gently and efficiently as her mother had taught her. She was excited and a little proud. This was her first delivery, and it was an unassisted delivery, too. She had helped her mother many times, and she'd known for years that she would be a midwife, but now it was finally real.
Almost finished. Turning to her satchel, she drew out the small teakettle and two cups that her mother had given her for her sixteenth birthday, only a month ago. By the light of the coals, she poured water from a bottle into the kettle. She stoked up the fire, seeing the burst of yellow light gleam over the mother with her small, quiet bundle.
"You did well," Gaia said. "How many is this for you again? Did you say four?"
"She's my first," the woman said, her voice warm with awed pleasure.
The woman's eyes gleamed briefly as she looked toward Gaia, and she smiled. In a shy, self-conscious gesture, she smoothed a sweat-damped curl back around her ear. "I didn't tell you before. I was afraid you wouldn't stay."
Gaia sat down slowly beside the fire, set the kettle on the metal rod, and swiveled it over the fire to warm.
First labors were hardest, the most risky, and although this one had progressed smoothly, Gaia knew they'd been lucky. Only an experienced midwife should have tended this woman, not only for the sake of the mother and child's heath, but for what would come next.
"I would have stayed," Gaia said softly, "but only because there's nobody else to come. My mother was already gone to another birth."
The mother hardly seemed to hear. "Isn't she beautiful?" she murmured. "And she's mine. I get to keep her."
Oh, no, Gaia thought. Her pleasure and pride evaporated, and she wished now, more than ever, that her mother were there. Or even Old Meg. Or anybody, for that matter.
Gaia opened her satchel and took out a new needle and a little bottle of brown ink. She shook the tin of tea over the kettle to drop in some flakes. The faint aroma slowly infused the room with a redolent fragrance, and the mother smiled again in a weary, relaxed way.
"I know we've never talked," the mother said. "But I've seen you and your mother coming and going at the quadrangle, and up to the wall. Everyone says you'll be as great a midwife as your mother, and now I can say it's true."
"Do you have a husband? A mother?" Gaia asked.
"No. Not living."
"Who was the boy you sent for me? A brother?"
"No. A kid who was passing in the street."
"So you have no one?"
"Not anymore. Now I have my baby, my Priscilla."
It's a bad name, Gaia thought. And what was worse, it wouldn't matter because it wouldn't last. Gaia dropped a pinch of motherwort into the mother's teacup, and then silently poured tea into the two cups, trying to think how best to do this. She let her hair fall forward, shielding the left side of her face, while she moved the empty teakettle, still warm, into her satchel.
"Here," she said, handing the cup laced with motherwort toward the young woman on the bed and smoothly removing the baby from beside her.
"What are you doing?" the mother asked.
"Just drink. It will help with the pain." Gaia took a sip from her own cup as an example.
"I don't feel much anymore. Just a little sleepy."
"That's good," Gaia said, setting her cup back by the hearth.
Quietly, she packed her gear and watched as the mother's eyelids grew heavier. She unwrapped the baby's legs to gently pull one foot out, and then she set the baby on a blanket on the floor, near the fireplace. The baby's eyes opened and flickered toward the flames: dark, murky eyes. It was impossible to tell what color they might eventually be. Gaia sopped a bit of clean rag into her cup of tea, absorbing the last hot liquid, and then wiped it over the ankle, cleaning it. She dipped the needle in the brown ink, held it briefly to the light, and then, swiftly, as she had done before under her mother's guidance, she pressed the pin into the baby's ankle in four rapid pricks. The child screamed.
"What are you doing?" the mother demanded, now fully awake.
Gaia wrapped the birthmarked baby again and cradled her firmly in one arm. She slid the teacup, needle, and ink into her satchel. Then she stepped forward and took the second teacup from beside the mother. She lifted her satchel.
"No!" the mother cried. "You can't! It's April twenty-first! Nobody ever advances a baby this late in the month."
"It's not how late the date is," Gaia said quietly. "It's the first three babies each month."
"But you must have delivered half a dozen by now," the woman shrieked, rising. She struggled to shift her legs to the side of the bed.
Gaia took a step backward, steeling herself to be strong. "My mother delivered those. This is my first," she said. "It's the first three babies for each midwife."
The mother stared at her, shock and horror shifting across her face. "You can't," she whispered. "You can't take my baby. She's mine."
"I have to," Gaia said, backing away. "I'm sorry."
"But you can't," the woman gasped.
"You'll have others. You'll get to keep some. I promise."
"Please," the mother begged. "Not this one. Not my only. What have I done?"
"I'm sorry," Gaia repeated. She'd reached the door now. She saw she'd left her tin of tea next to the fireplace, but it was too late to go back for it now. "Your baby will be well cared for," she said, using the phrases she'd learned. "You've provided a great service to the Enclave, and you will be compensated."
"No! Tell them to keep their filthy compensation! I want my baby."
The mother lunged across the room, but Gaia had expected this, and in an instant she was out of the house and moving swiftly down the dark alleyway. At the second corner, she had to stop because she was shaking so hard she was afraid she'd drop everything. The newborn made a lonely, anxious noise, and Gaia hitched her satchel more securely over her right shoulder so that she could pat the little bundle with her trembling fingers.
"Hush," she murmured.
From far behind her she heard a door open, and then a distant, wild keening noise. "Please! Gaia!" the voice called, and Gaia's heart lurched.
She sniffed back hard and turned to face the hill. This was far worse than she'd imagined it could be. Though her ears remained primed, listening for another cry in the night, she started forward again and trod rapidly up the hill toward the Enclave. The moon cast a blue light on the dark, wood and stone buildings around her, and once her foot caught against a rock. In contrast to the urgency that drove her forward, a hollow, sleepy silence filled the air. She'd made this trip many times before on her mother's behalf, but until tonight, it had never seemed like such a long journey. She knew the baby would be fine, even better than fine. She knew the mother would have others. More than anything, she knew it was the law that she turn this baby over and that if she didn't, her own life and that of the mother were forfeit.
She knew all of this, but for a moment, she wished it weren't so. In violation of everything she'd been taught, she wished she could take this baby back to her mother and tell her, "Here, take little Priscilla. Head into the wasteland and never come back."
She turned the last corner, and there was the light over the arching doors of the south gate, a single, gleaming bulb in a lantern of mirrored glass that reflected the illumination onto the doors and hard-packed ground. Two guards in black uniforms stood before the two massive wooden doors. She let her hair slide forward, covering her left cheek, and instinctively turned to keep that side of her face in shadow.
"If it isn't a little delivery," the taller guard said. He took off his wide-brimmed hat with a flourish and wedged it under an elbow. "Bringing us one of your mom's babies?"
Gaia walked forward slowly, her heart thudding against her ribs. She had to pause to catch her breath. She could almost hear the plaintive wail of the mother behind her, and Gaia feared that she was following behind on her pale, shaky legs. A bird flew overhead with a quick burst of wings. Gaia took another step forward, into the reassuring light of the lantern.
"It's my own," Gaia said. "My first."
"Is that right?" the second guard said, sounding impressed.
"Unassisted," she said, unable to resist a glimmer of pride.
She put a finger on the blanket under the infant's chin, taking a satisfied look at the even features, the little, perfect, convex dip in the skin above her upper lip. The great gate was opening, and she glanced up to see a white-clad woman approaching. She was short, with the healthy girth of someone who ate well. Her face was mature, capable, and if Gaia was correct, eager. Gaia didn't recognize her, but she'd seen others from the Nursery like her before.
"Is the baby perfect?" the woman asked, coming forward.
Gaia nodded. "I didn't have time to clean her," she apologized. "I had no assistant."
"This was your first delivery, then? There wasn't any problem with the mother, was there?"
Gaia hesitated. "No," she said. "She was glad to serve the Enclave."
"And when was the birth?"
Gaia pulled at the chain around her neck and pulled her locket watch out from the neckline of her dress. "Forty-three minutes ago."
"Excellent," the woman said. "You must remember to verify the mother's name and address in the quadrangle tomorrow morning to be sure she gets her compensation."
"I will," Gaia said, slipping the watch back into her dress.
The woman started to reach for the baby, but then her gaze flicked up to Gaia and she paused. "Let me see your face, child," the woman said gently.
Gaia lifted her chin slightly and reluctantly smoothed her hair behind her left ear. She turned fully into the light of the lamp that shone over the great gate. As if their sightlines were made of fine, invisible arrows, the gaze of six eyes zeroed in on her scar and lingered there in speechless curiosity. She forced herself to stay still and bear their scrutiny.
The taller guard cleared his throat and brought his fist to his lips in a little cough.
"You've done well, Gaia Stone," the woman said finally, giving her a wise smile. "Your mother will be proud."
"Thank you, Masister," Gaia said.
"I'm Masister Khol. Say hello to her for me."
"I will, Masister."
Gaia let the hair fall free from behind her left ear again. It didn't surprise her that the Enclave woman knew her name. Too often before, Gaia had met someone for the first time only to discover they'd already heard of her, Bonnie and Jasper Stone's daughter, the one with the burned face. The recognition no longer surprised her, but she didn't much like it. Masister Khol was holding out her hands in an expectant manner, and Gaia gently leaned the infant away from the warmth of her left side to pass her carefully over. For a moment, her palms felt light, empty, and cold.
"She's called Priscilla," Gaia said.
Masister Khol looked at her curiously. "Thank you. That's good to know," she said.
"You're going to have a busy time ahead," the tall soldier said. "And what, you're only seventeen, isn't that right?"
"Sixteen," Gaia said.
She felt suddenly, inexplicably ill, like she might throw up. She gave a quick smile, switched her satchel to her other shoulder, and turned.
"Good-bye," Masister Khol said. "I'll send your compensation to your mother's place in Western Sector Three, shall I?"
"Yes," Gaia called. She was already walking down the hill again, her legs not quite steady. She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them and touched her fingers against the dim building beside her for balance.
The moon's light seemed less powerful now than it had before she stepped into the glow of the lantern, and blink as she might, she could not instantly make her eyes adjust to the darkness. She had to stand, waiting, just around the corner from the gate with its gleaming lantern. In the stillness, she could hear crying from somewhere near, a soft, lonely crying. Her heart stopped. For a moment she was certain that Priscilla's mother was close by in the shadows, ready to plead with her again, or accuse her. But no one appeared, and in another moment, when the crying subsided, Gaia was able to continue down the hill, away from the wall, toward home.
BIRTHMARKED Copyright 2010 by Caragh M. OBrien
Meet 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 www.caraghobrien.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Set on the shores of Unlake Michigan, this dystopian world has me hooked. Following some kind of environmental fallout that resulted in not nearly enough water to go around, the difference between the haves and the have-nots grows much more pronounced. What used to be the northern United States becomes something resembling a feudal city-state. The have-nots in Wharfton, where Gaia lives, depend on the "good people" of the Enclave for water to survive. And a bleak survival it is. Gaia and her parents do alright; there are only three of them and both her parents work, her mother as a midwife and her father as a tailor. Gaia's new status as a full midwife should have brought her family the Wharfton version of luxury: plenty of water and extra passes to the local entertainment center, Tvaltar. The Enclave also could not exist without those in Wharfton. Though there are bakers, tailors, and other services available right inside the wall, the people of Wharfton provide much of the labor and services the Enclave requires. And the babies. The people of Wharfton also provide Enclave families with babies. At first I thought this was going to be a situation like that in The Handmaid's Tale where most women become sterile and those who still can are pressed into service as babymakers. That is not the case here, though why the Enclave needs Wharfton babies remains a mystery for most of the book. Many people on both sides of the wall believe, like Gaia herself, that the children sent to the Enclave are simply lucky, even while their parents are left heart-broken; they have a chance at a much easier life. The Protectorat, the ruling class of the Enclave, have a much more complicated need for children born in Wharfton. Luckily (not really) Gaia is caught pretty early on on her attempt to rescue her parents and so gets to meet the key people behind the "advancement" program. After Gaia is captured in the Enclave, where she has no right to be, she learns so much more about the history of her society and world than she could have imagined. She learns just how the Enclave uses those in Wharfton and the vital part she and her mother play in that relationship as midwives. She learns that her parents, who she trusted implicitly and thought she knew inside and out, hid very important things about themselves and their family from her. She learns what they hid about her own past. And during all of this acquisition of knowledge, she makes some unlikely allies inside the wall and, of course, falls in love with an especially broody, high-ranking member of the military who seems to hate her and yet find her interesting. It's a lot for one girl to go through. And it's all a set-up. It was an emotional thrill ride the whole way through with an ending just barely satisfying enough to not make me want to tear my hair out. I can't wait for Book 2. Book source: Philly Free Library
I really enjoyed this book after a few chapters. I was slowly drawn in by the story of Gaia and her determination to fight for what is right, not just what is popular. I loved how the little pieces of her past start to fall together. I have the second book on it's way, should be here tomorrow, and have already pre-ordered Promised. I look forward to reading Prized! I think it was a great book to follow The Hunger Games Trilogy. If you liked this book you'll LOVE the Divergent series!
Loved this book. Couldn't put it down. A total must read!
I fell in love with cover of this book, its amazing and matched the story perfectly. The only problem I had with it was that it was very interesting and captivating, then it wasn't, then it was again. Other than being a little jumbled, it was great. Gaia is a very well created character, she's real and fights for whats right and lets nothing stop her.The story's ending hints a sequel, so I'll be looking out for it.
REALLY good. Its another great dystopian novel. It starts out slow, but then exceeds to a point full of suspense and anticipation. I recommend this to fellow teenagers as myself. Hope you enjoy it!
It is so good they will make a horible movie about it ;)
In my opinion, writing a good dystopian novel can be tricky. First you¿re building a world on something that already exists - our world. Next, you have to take a part of our world, skew it, then write about it, but in a way that makes the reader think that this could happen, especially given the current state of the world. This is usually what I look for in my dystopian novels and I found it in Birthmarked by Caragh O¿Brien. Birthmarked opens up with a birthing scene - a very gutsy move. Gaia, a young midwife, delivers her first baby; significant because it¿s the first time she¿s doing it on her own and because it lays the path for the reader to learn about the Enclave, the baby quota and the world that will be explored in Birthmarked. After delivering the baby to the Enclave, Gaia heads home to find her parents have been taken to the Enclave for questioning. The mystery builds as Gaia questions why her parents were taken, what record the guards were interrogating her about and why her mother hid a ribbon with strange symbols on them. Caragh does a great job at describing Gaia¿s world and situation. Gaia¿s home and all the places she travels to are carefully described, giving the reader a three dimensional view of the world. Once Gaia makes it into the walls of the Enclave the action is almost non-stop, like a wild ride with just enough pause for you to catch your breath and the right amount of twists and turns to keep you intrigued. There is a splattering of biology in the narrative, but it is so well-weaved into the plot that it does not read like a science book. For the shipping enthusiasts there is a bit of romance which, while not necessary to the plot advancement, does a good job at adding layer of charm. What I liked best about this book was the questions that it raised. It¿s a great book to open discussions on prejudices in society, hierarchy and class. It also opens questions about the way we use our limited resources and what might happen if we aren¿t careful to care for the world we have. While these are great questions, I appreciated the way that they were subtly intertwined in the narrative. There was no blaring agenda, the questions rose organically from the story and I appreciated this greatly.
I just finished the book and it was amazing! If you like books like Hunger Games and even Maze Runner, this book is for you! It keeps you guessing the entire time. I finished the book in two days!!!
Caragh O'Brien explores the bonds of kinship in a deteriorating dystopian society that brings to a head many provocative themes, and forces us to ponder some difficult questions and even more troublesome answers. In Birthmarked, three hundred years into the future, humanity's survival depends on diversity. But the citizens of Western Sector Three don't know that. For countless years they have been sacrificing their select newborns to the Enclave for basic necessities, never to see them again. One girl will unravel the mystery and thrust these two societies into chaos. Birthmarked was such a compelling read because it's chock full of substance. O'Brien's world is one of obedience. Where the technology, the advancements of a bygone era, hydroelectricity, computers, and the means to grow food are all controlled by the Enclave. Their rules are harsh and unforgiving to those that disobey them. Those outside the walls live a simple life, largely uneducated and supply.babies to the Enclave unknowing that genetic defects are so prevalent within the upper castes. O'Brien does not purposely soften the tone of her story merely because it is young adults who are her audience. Rather the adversities that Gaia Stone goes through in Birthmarked, bonds the readers to her plight. When Gaia starts to unravel the mysteries that are left to her after her parents are jailed, she must confront the consequences of her actions. What ultimately happened to the babies that she and her mother "advanced"? What became of her two older brothers? What does Leon want with her? What is the significance of the tattooed "freckles" and worse, how will the Enclave use that knowledge especially as their situation worsens? She has the power to destroy or join together both societies.will she do it? There is harsh death as well as the balm of new life within O'Brien's world, which makes it realistic and meaningful. I have read plenty of YA dystopian novels but none of them can come close to the subtly expressive and thought-provoking themes that Birthmarked contained. I was enthralled from the first page, contemplative, and reveling throughout the entire story. It was simply an amazing debut read. Every reader will want to accompany this courageous heroine on the journey to discover exactly what she is capable of, unravel the mystery of the coded ribbon, and whether she can step unfettered into the future. I definitely want more and am anxious to find out what happens in the next book! A Fiendishly Bookish Review
I have read the whole birthmarked triology. Though the books have interesting characters, a good back story, and a solid plot line, the books are just to sad.
Fast read. Enjoyed it. If you liked The Hunger Games and Divergent series, you'll like this. Not as good as those series but good.
This boo k was amazing i love the how ou see Gaia perspctive of th Enclave change from one thing to another. And qwhen she meets Leon i melted. You could tell from the start that he would.... not gonna spoil it. What Gaia does for her family is truely amazing she did everything she could. Once i started his book i wouldnt put it down for food or homework. Ieven read it while in science class once. If you like Hunger Games hen you will try love this. Same themes love rebellion it is truely spectacular. Elyse 13
Wasn't sure I was going to like this one until I got past the first few pages and it left me wanting more. the book keep you looking for more. the next book is just as good if not better. the only Con I have is having to wait for the 3ed book to come out. if you liked Divergent you'll like this one also.
I really liked this book. I immediately bought the second book in the trilogy and loved it too! I can't wait for the third book. It has an interesting story line and is a good example of dystopian literature. If you like the City of Ember series or the Hunger Games series - it is the same type of literature. My sons and I are enjoying these books and I would recommend them to others. I think this series would be good for a book club - lots of interesting discussion points.
I loved this novel. Not too dark, and the characters were nicely rounded. I am looking forward to the next book.
I really liked this book. It is set in the future where we are left with an earth that is barely habitable. Gaia Stone is a midwife just like her mother and is stuff starting to deliver babies all by herself instead of being an assistant to her mother. Gaia and her family live outside the wall. Those that live inside the wall have a better chance at life than those that live outside the wall or at least that is what they are made to believe. Those that live inside the wall have a better chance. Gaia’s life is soon to change and she will learn that everything she has ever been told is a lie. Nothing is as it seems. Nothing could have prepared her for what she is about to learn and go through. Who to trust and what to believe? This book took a bit to get into and understand how they lived. But, once I got into it, it was fantastic. There are lots of twists and turns. For me it was comparable to Hunger Games in some ways but still different enough that I didn’t feel like it was the same. No fighting for their life but still those in charge are not telling everything and more worried about the upper class than the group as a whole. I felt for Gaia so much. Her whole life changed in one night and things went downhill from there. The story was wonderfully written. The characters have depth to them and pull you in. I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
I agree with what one of the other reviewers said, that the book kept wavering between parts that were very interesting and parts that weren't. I found my self skipping over all the parts that described the surroundings to get to a part where something actually happened. It was okay, not great.
In a future where the world has been baked dry and the Great Lakes are empty craters, sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone's world is divided by the walls of the Enclave. The privileged few living inside the walls want for nothing; their lives the stuff of legend with decadence and comfort documented for all to admire at the Tvaltar. Gaia Stone has always known that her place is outside the walls. The Enclave does not welcome people with scars or burns especially not when they are as visible as the one on Gaia's face. Like her mother before her, Gaia works as a midwife helping the women in Western Sector 3 deliver their babies. Like her mother, Gaia also fills the baby quota each month by "advancing" a handful of newborns to live inside the Enclave walls. It is only after her parents are arrested that Gaia begins to wonder about the true purpose of the baby quote and what else the Enclave might be hiding. Gaia knows she has to try to infiltrate the Enclave and rescue her parents no matter the risk in Birthmarked (2010) by Caragh M. O'Brien. Birthmarked is O'Brien's first novel and the start of her Birthmarked trilogy which continues with Prized and Promised. Birthmarked is utterly engrossing and atmospheric. Readers are immediately drawn into Gaia's world and the complex politics surrounding the Enclave. Third person narration and flashbacks to Gaia's past lend an introspective quality to this otherwise taut narrative. Gaia's arc throughout the story is handled extremely well as she begins to learn more about the Enclave and the politics surrounding it. O'Brien expertly demonstrates Gaia's growth as well as her changing attitudes throughout the novel. Every detail in Birthmarked is thoughtfully placed within a complex world and intricate prose where even the vocabulary is often unique and the dialog simmers with unspoken chemistry. Although this novel starts a trilogy, it also offers a self-contained story that leaves room to ponder and to savor. Birthmarked is a fast-paced, vibrant book that is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended. Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Eve by Anna Carey, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Legend by Marie Lu, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
I thought this book was amazing!!!!! Althoigh it was a little boring at first in the middle it was hard to put down:) my fav characters were leon and gaia such a cute couple in my eyes. If you want a book with love hard desicions heartbrake loss and adventure i recommend this book!!!!!!! BUY IT TOTALLY WORTH IT
I really enjoyed this book. The plot was well set up and there was great character development especially with gaia. I really liked her character and the storyline was very captivating. I must say that i liked prized and promised a little bit better because i thought they were a little more interesting.
I couldn't put this book down! I absolutely loved it and will be buying the next immediately!