Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

birthmarked“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.

‘Please,’ the mother begged. ‘Not this one. Not my only.  What have I done?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Gaia repeated…’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.'”

Gaia is a sixteen-year-old midwife, unlucky enough to live outside The Wall, apart from the privileged, comfortable citizens of The Enclave.  It is her duty to hand over the first three babies she delivers each month-babies who are destined to be adopted by waiting parents in The Enclave.  These children are destined to live a life of comfort and cleanliness, far from the polluted, crowded streets of those living outside the walled community.

When Gaia’s parents are arrested by the very government they worked so faithfully for, Gaia realizes all is not well.  Her parents were keeping secrets-a secret code listing the parents of all the babies who had been sent away to live in The Enclave.  When the government comes after her, Gaia is forced to choose: solve her parents’ code and turn the information over to a government she doesn’t trust, or attempt a risky escape.

Dystopias, everyone! Do we still love them?  I have to say that I do, personally, but I’ve gotten a lot pickier since there are so many great ones out there.  I’m bringing this one to you because it is one on the Great List!  Gaia is smart, strong, and real-feeling; she feels like someone you go to school with, or would like to.  Her job is interesting, and (without spoiling anything) the reason the government needs the delivered babies is double-interesting.  For those of you looking for romance, you’ll find a bit, but it’s not front and center, so if it’s not your thing, you’ll be able to ignore it.  Part mystery, part thriller, part end-of-the-world book, this one is one I didn’t want to put down.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.caraghobrien.com

If you’re looking for Read-Alikes for Birthmarked, I think you’ll like Parable of the Sower, by superstar science fiction author Octavia Butler-it’s the story of a young women facing a collapsing society, much like Gaia’s.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker also grapples with the collapse of the world as we know, and is told from the perspective of a young woman with an unforgettable voice.  This book feels like poetry for the end of the world.

Life as We Knew It is another disaster story: massive climate change makes the earth nearly inhospitable, and teenager Miranda records it all in her diary.

 

 

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After the Snow by S. D. Crockett

AFTERTHESNOW“I reckon the fire in the house probably gone out by now with no one to feed it cos everyone gone and I been sitting on the hill all day finding that out.  Everyone got taken away cos I seen tracks in the snow.  They all gone.

Dad gone.

Magda gone.

The others gone.

But I don’t know why.”

Willo’s never known a land without the snow.  Long before he was born, the new ice age descended.  It wasn’t easy for humans to adapt; now, most of them reside in poverty and compete for resources in crowded, filthy governmental cities-and they’re the lucky ones.  Willo wasn’t from the city, though-he and his family were stragglers, living illegally in the mountains, far from civilization.  There, they trapped animals, made their own candles, and lived off the land, trying to avoid being detected by officials determined to round them up and take them to the cities.

When Willo returns from a trip in the mountains to discover the rest of his family is missing, he knows that is what must have happened: they must have been trucked into the city.  Now, if there’s any hope of surviving, he’s got to go and find his family.  What he finds, though, is far more sinister.

You might have noticed by now: I love end of the world stories. They are equally terrifying and alluring, and I never get tired of playing How’s It All Gonna End.  Apparently, I’m not alone out there, because post-apocalyptic books just like this one are all over the Young Adult shelves.  This one is a particular favorite at my branch, especially this summer-possibly because the endless frozen landscapes are soothing when it’s 95 degrees for weeks on end.  I think part the appeal is Willo’s voice: his dialect is distinctive.  It feels like poetry of ain’ts and been dones and just gonnas, with incisive comments about human nature and survival.  Another reason why it’s awesome: no preaching here.  It’s easy for a dystopic novel to go into the whole sermon-the one titled: Hey Guys, You Messed Up the World and Now It’s Ruined and So You Best Start Recycling Now, Readers.  And there’s a place for that, of course, but in my experience, it’s not in a book like this. And this book avoids it, without downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  If you like survival stories, tense adventures, conspiracy theories, and stories about the end of things, this is one you’ll dig for sure. FURTHER BONUS: NO ROMANCE.  For those of you who wanna barf every time there’s kissing all mixed up in your adventure novel, you’re all clear here.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Crockett, S.D. After the Snow. Feiwel & Friends, New York: 2012. 288 pp.

Now, if you liked this one, try these:

The Knife of Never Letting Go Both are survival stories, and they have similar protagonists and distinctive speech patterns.

Feed The two books share distinctive speech patterns, settings in a dystopian universe, and a sinister governments.  Be warned, though-Feed is sort of set in outer space, so don’t come here looking for a mountain survival story.

Chime  A female protagonist this time, set in the fictional, troubled land of Swampsea.  The language of this book is beautiful and original-really special.

My Side of the Mountain Ok, it’s not set in the end of the world, and it was published a while ago, but it is THE. AWESOMEST. survival story ever, and I’ll never be tired of saying it.

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

this-world-we-live-in“I thought about the earth then, really thought about it, the tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the horrors I haven’t witnessed but have changed my life, the lives of everyone I know, all the people I’ll never know.  I thought about life without the sun, the moon, stars, without flowers and warm days in May.  I thought about a year ago and all the good things I’d taken for granted and all the unbearable things that had replaced those simple blessings. And even though I hated the thought of crying in front of Syl, tears streamed down my face.”

It’s been a year since the asteroid hit the moon, and Miranda and her family are still struggling to survive in the ruins of their small Pennsylvania town.  When Miranda’s father, his wife, their baby, and Alex and Julie Morales (from The Dead and the Gone) show up at the door, the group must make plans for the future. They know the governmental food deliveries won’t continue forever, and with ten people, there’s no way their stored food will last long.  However, finding a safe place to go is a challenge.  There are rumors of safe cities, for governmental officials and other important people, but no one is sure how or where to find them.  As they search for a workable solution, the weather grows increasingly violent; they don’t have much time.  Will they make it to safety?

The final book in the Last Survivors trilogy connects the stories of Alex and Julie, from the second book, with Miranda and her family’s.  There are no good answers to the climate change and food shortages, but the book manages to strike a balance between bleak hopelessness and unrealistic solutions.  In short, Susan Beth Pfeffer continues the tone of the previous two books, giving us a chillingly accurate-feeling story about the end of the world.  If you don’t like the zombie apocalypse stories because you don’t think it would ever happen, this trilogy will give you the end-of-the-world creepiness that feels realer than real.  It’s scarier than some books for adults, even.  I couldn’t put it down, and I bet you won’t be able to, either.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. This World We Live In. Harcourt: Boston, 2010. 239 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Looking for more on the end of the world?  After you finish this trilogy, starting with Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Goneyou might want to try these:

The Age of Miracles

Shipbreaker

How I Live Now

How I Live Now

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Dead and the Gone“Alex made three columns and labeled them: WHAT I KNOW; WHAT I THINK; WHAT I DON’T KNOW. Under WHAT I KNOW he wrote:

No subways

Floods

Moon closer to earth

Carlos all right

Bri and Julie all right

School on Monday

Under WHAT I DON’T KNOW he wrote:

How long it will take for things to get back to normal.”

 Alex was behind the counter at Joey’s Pizza when the asteroid struck the moon.  The impact knocked it out of orbit, and set into action a chain of catastrophic events.  Tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods, to start.  Then  the volcanic eruptions and climate change-the ash from the volcanoes obscures the sun and turns July into January. The natural disasters exacerbate food shortages, making people more likely to succumb to the flu epidemic, or other diseases making their way through the population at alarming rates.

Worse still, Alex doesn’t know where his parents are.  His father was attending a funeral in Puerto Rico when the asteroid hit, and his mother was working at the hospital in Queens, but no one has heard from them since.  This leaves 17-year-old Alex in charge of his two younger sisters, Bri and Julie.  Overnight, Alex must decide how to find food, protect his sisters from the brutal new reality they are facing, and make a plan for the future: there’s no telling if scientists will be able to fix the moon’s orbit.

This gripping novel is the second in a trilogy; Life as We Knew It told the story from Miranda’s perspective-a young woman living in a small Pennsylvania town.  The Dead and the Gone is set in New York City, but covers the same asteroid strike.  Instead of a first-person diary format like Miranda’s, Alex’s story is told in third-person, which I preferred to the journaling-style.  While I loved the first book in the series, I found The Dead and the Gone to be even more gripping and terrifying.  I’m no stranger to end-of-the-world books; you might even say I have a morbid fascination with How Things End.  However, I can honestly say that this is the single creepiest apocalypse story I’ve ever read-adult or young adult fiction-and it is because of its plausibility.  The entire time while I was reading, all I could think was: “Hey, this could really happen.”  That thought was enough to keep me hooked.  You’ll love it-if it doesn’t scare you to bits, first.

Oh! A mysterious side note-did you know that Susan Beth Pfeffer is a pseudonym?  The real author of this series is Micky Spillane-you can read all about it on the author’s website.

Happy Reading!

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. The Dead and the Gone. Harcourt: New York, 2008. 321 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this one (and it’s ok to read it first, before Life as We Knew It-they’re companion novels, not books that have to be read in order) you should check out the other two: 

Life as We Knew It

This World We Live In

Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer

“I know all those astronomers I’d watched an hour earlier on CNN can explain just what happened and how and why and they’ll be explaining on CNN tonight and tomorrow and I guess until the next big story happens.  I know I can’t explain, because I don’t really know what happened and I sure don’t know why.

But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore. It was tilted and wrong and a three-quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible…It was still our moon and it was still just a big dead rock in the sky, but it wasn’t benign anymore.  It was terrifying, and you could feel the panic swell all around us.  Some people raced to their cars and started speeding away.  Others began praying or weeping. One household began singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

When a meteor crashes into the moon, it sets off a series of terrifying calamities: tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and climate changes.  Panicked citizens rush into stores and get in fights over canned goods.  Gas prices skyrocket. Electric power service becomes erratic and soon ceases altogether.  As for water, the lucky ones are those that have their own wells, but even they risk running dry; the climate changes mean unpredictable rain showers.  When it does rain, the storms are of frightening magnitude.

Sixteen-year-old Miranda records it all in her diary.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her mother and two brothers.  Together, they try to survive the end of the world as they knew it.  They watch their dwindling supplies of canned goods, chop firewood for their stove, and venture out only to the post office, to wait anxiously for news of loved ones.  The lists of the dead grow longer and longer; many people starve or freeze to death, and those that survive are susceptible, in their weakened states, to the flu or other diseases.  What’s a teenager to do when it looks like the end of the world?

I’ve read a lot of books about the future; I’ll admit, I have a weak spot for Worst Case Scenarios.  The earth runs out of oil? I totally want to read about it.  Zombie apocalypse?  The only way I’ll be prepared is by figuring out what the characters in the book did, right?  Anyway, I consider myself reasonably well-qualified to judge these kinds of books.  Life as We Knew it is one of the best I’ve read, for several reasons.  First, it’s one of the scariest because it seems to be the most likely Way The World Ends.  An asteroid hits and the dust from the impact and the ash from volcanic activity obscure the sun and cause dramatic climate changes.  Secondly, the diary format really captures Miranda’s anxiety, frustration, and cabin fever as her world is reduced to the size of a single room: the only room heated by their woodstove.  And thirdly, the ending isn’t controved, no deus ex machina solutions that enable scientists to push the moon back into place and restore order.  I can’t tell you, of course, but you can trust Susan Pfeffer: she won’t let you down with an unrealistic ending, but she won’t terrify you with nothing but destruction, either.

Miranda’s voice is realistic, and her observations of the world around her are sharp and fascinating. I was horrified and captivated while reading her entries about her brothers, after she realizes that her mother might have to choose which of the three children to continue feeding, should the resources get too low. This book will have you stocking up on canned goods and batteries, for sure.  If you’re looking for a chilling book to escape the miserable summer heat, this one is a great place to start.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://susanbethpfeffer.blogspot.com

Pfeffer, Susan. Life as We Knew It. Scholastic: New York, 2006. 337 pp. Ages 13 and up.

If this book sounds great, you’re in luck! There are two more in the series: The Dead and the Gone, and This World We Live In.