Caragh O’Brien – Birthmarked I (2010)

Publication date: 2010

Pages: 362

Word count: 104491

Ages: YA

“Be good, Gaia,” Capt. Grey told her, his voice grave. She still refused to look at him, but she could feel the heated flush of anger again in her cheeks. “Cooperate with the guards. For your own sake,” he continued.

“Be good yourself, Captain,” she said bitterly. “If you know how.”

I’ve read Birthmarked ages ago and never got around reviewing it but it’s still very present because I liked it so much and loved how high the stakes were for the heroine. I don’t think it got the attention it deserved, possibly because Birthmarked, the first in the Birthmarked series, came out at a time when a lot of dystopian or post-apocalyptic YA novels came out.

Birthmarked is set three centuries in the future after natural disasters have turned the earth into an arid zone. It is set where Chicago used to be. It’s hot and dry and the country is divided into the ruling population, inside the wall, or Enclave, and those outside. Sixteen-year-old Gaia and her mother are both midwives, delivering a certain quota of babies to the Enclave. Until the day her parents are abducted and brought inside the wall, Gaia, doesn’t find anything wrong with the way she lives. But now, fearing her parents might never come back, she has to enter the secret city and try to save them. It soon becomes clear to her that the things they were told were not true and that this system is based on injustice and exploitation of people. And she finally finds out, why those babies are delivered to the Enclave.

I loved the book because of it’s strong, complex heroine. I also loved the descriptions of the Enclave. They are very vivid and the place reminded me of a medieval city. The story isn’t overly fast-paced but it’s very gripping. Gaia tries to stay undiscovered inside of the city walls but it’s almost impossible. As I said, the stakes are high. She knows her parents are accused of something and that they might be killed for it. I was wondering, whether or not the stakes would still be high at the end of book one and they are. The story has an end but there’s also a cliff hanger, which makes you want to pick up the next book and spend more time with this clever, courageous heroine. If my TBR piles weren’t so high, I would have finished the series already. Unfortunately though, they are, and so I’m not sure when I will return to the world of Birthmarked, which is a shame as it was an enjoyable first book.

“This is a Typical YA Ending”

Copyright -

This is just a quick post about something that’s been on my mind for a while. It’s sad that there are so many preconceived ideas about YA novels, ideas that show those who speak about them, very often haven’t read any.

I’m writing for adults, children and Young Adults and in one of my writer’s groups a fellow writer commented on one of my stories for adults. She found the ending was a bit too corny, a bit too much of a happy ending. I’m not saying she was wrong. I think she was right but she then went to add: “It’s a typical YA ending. But this is literary fiction.” I was so stunned, I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t in the mood. But it’s definitely not the first time that I hear this kind of comment.

In this post I only want to discuss one part of the comment – the ending. (The defence of the literary merits of YA literature deserve another, longer post.) I recently read two YA novels and they made me realize that the endings are one of the things I love about YA. And why do I love them so much? Precisely because they often aren’t neat or predictable and that’s how they manage to capture life’s complexity. I think, she may have mixed up YA books with romance novels, where there’s mostly a happy ending.

Unfortuntely, as far as preconceived ideas about YA novels go, it isn’t even the worst.

The book that I’ve read recently and that made me, realize once more, how fresh and unpredictable YA novels are – was an older book by Judy Blume – Tiger Eyes. It wouldn’t be a bad choice for someone who isn’t familiar with YA novels and definitely a great choice to get rid of some of the stereotypical views.

Of course, there are YA novels with happy endings. And that’s fine as well. But it’s not something that’s typical for YA.

What do you think?


Louise O’Neill: Asking For It (2015)


Publication date: 2015

Pages: 350

Word count: ?

Ages: YA

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.

What a book! I finished it a while ago but I’m still stunned. Sometimes you read a book and the topic shocks you. Then you read a book and the topic and your reaction shock you. This is what happened when I read Louise O’Neill’s brilliant novel Asking For It.

Asking For It is set in a small Irish town where everyone knows everyone. Eighteen-year-old Emma O’Donovan is the local beauty and most popular girl. There’s hardly a boy who can resist her and many girls want to be her friend. She loves to party, drinks, takes drugs and hooks up with random boys. You could say she’s pretty wild. One evening, like so often, she does drugs and has casual sex with a guy and then things get out of hands. The next afternoon, her parents find her asleep on the verandah with a serious sunburn and no idea what happened before and after she passed out. She’ll find out soon enough. Because someone filmed it and posted it on Facebook. Now she’s not popular anymore, she’s just a slut.

Emma’s first reaction is to suck it up and forget all about it but people tell her she has to report what happened as rape. From the moment, the word is said and charges are made, things go even further downhill for Emma. The ending was a real shocker but realistic.

It’s a sad and sobering story and the way it is told is so powerful and eye-opening because of Louise O’Neill’s choice of main protagonist. If Emma was just a beautiful, wild girl, it wouldn’t have had such an impact on me. I would have felt sorry for her and sided with her but Emma isn’t a likable character. On the contrary. She’s possibly the most obnoxious character I’ve ever come across. She’s narcissistic and has to be the center of attention all the time. She loves to steal other girls’ boyfriends or seduce the boys they fancy. She’s also jealous and downright nasty, mean, and offensive. Since she’s the first person narrator we get to know her very well. She’s a real piece of work.

At first I didn’t understand O’Neill’s choice of character but when I noticed my reaction, I got it. I’m ashamed to admit but my first thought was – she really had it coming. That gave me pause and I had to ask myself “seriously – because she’s unlikable she deserved what happened?” and that’s when I had to say – no, of course not. Nobody deserves something like this. And nobody is asking for it. And that’s when I began to admire Louise O’Neill’s choice because it shows what an explosive topic this is. What horrible reactions victims might have to face. It’s easy to feel empathy with a likable girl – wild or quiet – but obnoxious girls like Emma deserve understanding and support as well. Emma is a 21st century girl. In some ways she’s maybe an exaggeration, but in many other ways she’s not. Many Teenage girls drink, party, do drugs, and have casual sex but that doesn’t mean they are asking for being abused and raped. And they certainly don’t deserve it.

Asking For It looks at important aspects of the discussion around rape. Just because a girl/boy, woman/man was drunk or unconscious that doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Dressing in a provocative way, doesn’t mean someone wants to be touched  . . . It’s appalling that these things still need to be said. The idea that they are punished for behaving the wrong way is so deep-rooted that some women don’t even dare calling what happened to them rape. The book also shows how easily society turns against the victim.

Asking For It is powerful. The writing is strong and tight. Emma’s voice is so distinct, I could still hear her after I finished the book. The bragging Emma and the one that was shamed and humiliated. Sadly, Asking For It is an important book. We need books like this. They raise awareness, offer food for thought and topics for discussions. Documentaries like The Hunting Ground show all too well how real “rape culture” is.

This review first appeared on my blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat