Friday, March 9, 2012

Women Rule and Men Drool

Prized (The Birthmarked Trilogy)
When we last saw Gaia, the midwife from the Enclave, she had been held prisoner inside the walled city and found her mother, who she feared had died. Her mother was pregnant and Gaia was forced to serve as her midwife. After losing her mother in childbirth, she is determined to save her sister. Aided by the guard she cared more about than she cares to admit, Leon, Gaia escapes into the Wasteland. At the beginning of the sequel Prized, Caragh O'Brien, we find Gaia and her sister Maya barely alive in the Wasteland... but still free of the Enclave.

Maya has stopped crying and Gaia knows the end is near. They won't last much longer. Just as she is about to give up, a rider on horseback finds her. She thought horses were extinct! Peter takes her back to Sylum, the community where women are dying out and the ones left control the community. Unlike the Enclave, in Sylum, women are the only citizens who matter and the only ones to vote. Matrarc, the "matriarch" of the community, takes Maya from Gaia to be placed with another family and warns Gaia about the unfortunate reality of Sylum: if you stay, you will have to go through the "entry sickness". Once your body acclimates to Sylum, you will never be able to leave. People have tried and always end up dying in the Wasteland. No one knows what happens to your body in Sylum to keep you from leaving, but they do know that once you make the choice to stay, you have to accept your life will remain in Sylum forever.

Gaia stays, but only for her sister. She fills the space of the long-gone midwife, but butts heads with Matrarc for assisting in a miscarriage. In a society where only 1 in 10 babies is a girl, they realize every baby is precious, but the way to maintain order is to ensure families remain together and the women have strict rules to protect them. Therefore, no man can touch a woman and a kiss is considered attempted rape. As Gaia gets to know Peter, who saved her form the Wasteland, and Will, Peter's brother, she realizes how restricting life must be for people who can't even hug or hold hands unless they are getting married. When Leon shows up from the Wasteland, Gaia knows she must save him from the prison. What she doesn't expect is Leon's bitterness about how well she has finally acclimated to a society where Gaia and the rest of the women are in charge. Now she must find a way to get her sister back and to prove to Leon how sorry she is. Not an easy thing to do when he is in jail and her every move is watched carefully.

It is no secret that I loved Birthmarked, but Prized was a brilliant sequel. It gave us two totally different dystopic worlds within the same series and with the same characters. It would make sense that in Gaia's world, there are entire civilizations completed separated by the Wastelands and other geographic obstacles, and it would only make sense that they would be totally and completely different. This brilliant move made this book just as exciting as the first book in the series. And the idea of a community where women's numbers are dwindling and women are in complete control is fascinating. There was a logical reason for it- men outnumbering women and all trapped there might endanger the women- but it had gone too far to a point where men were little more than slaves. It was an interesting flip flop to something our students are used to learning about and would spark some interesting discussions.

My one very, very tiny pet peeve was some of the jargon or terms used in Sylum. Cuzines were the governing body of women, all married women in proper standing were referred to as Mlady and single women in proper standing were Mlass. Women who were disgraced and refused to marry were called libbies and their prefix was Mx. It was a little confusing at first, but luckily the terminology was limited and didn't overpower the story. I think a nice addition to the book would have been a short glossary for people getting adjusted to the language used in the community. Otherwise, this was a brilliant sequel. The characters continue to be deep and realistic. The story is intricate and beautiful, and the reader, though O'Brien's wonderful prose, finds themselves immersed into the world along with Gaia, tough choices and all. I promise, you are going to go into this book thinking you know where you stand on things and end up questioning everything you thought you understood! 

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