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Monday, September 12, 2011

And I So Wanted to Love This ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Prized, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the book's predecessor. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

I loved Birthmarked, the first book in Caragh M. O'Brien's dystopian YA series, so much that I couldn't wait for the sequel. So, when a publicist from Roaring Brook Press contacted me recently about reviewing the sequel, I squealed like a pig and nearly wet my pants in excitement said yes. Since the book doesn't come out until November 8, I made myself wait to read it. For like a month. Then, I caved. So much for self-restraint. I should know by now that I have none at all when it comes to books. Now, I have to answer the big question: Was Prized worth the wait?

Really? You thought I would tell you in the second paragraph of my review? Wrong! You'll just have to wait for it (Or, you could always skip to the bottom of this review, which I don't recommend at all, but as you can tell, patience is not one of my virtues either, so whatever. I won't judge).

Birthmarked ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, with 16-year-old Gaia Stone running into the wilderness, desperate to escape the cruel control of the Enclave. When Prized begins, it's days later - Gaia's outrun her pursuers, but is now lost in the wasteland, weak from exhaustion and starvation. Her infant sister grows frailer by the hour. If Gaia doesn't find help soon, they'll both die.

When a man on horseback rides up to her camp, offering to take Gaia to a safe place, she knows it's her last and only hope for survival. But when she arrives in Sylum, a small city run by a domineering woman called Matrarc Olivia, she begins to doubt that her new home is any better than her old one. She doesn't understand the matriarchal society where it's illegal for unmarried men and women to touch each other; where she, who's risked everything for her baby sister, is declared an "unfit mother;" and where dangerous community secrets are being kept from the people of Sylum. Gaia knows disobeying the Matrarc could mean never seeing her sister again, but she didn't fight the Enclave only to be enslaved to a different kind of tyrant, did she? With everything she holds dear hanging in the balance, Gaia must make a decision - conform or flee, once again, into the unforgiving wilderness. In Sylum, she has friends, a job, and the affections of several men; in the wasteland, she'll have nothing. Except freedom.

So, maybe I cursed Prized by wanting it so much. I don't know how else to explain my disappointment with the book. No matter how much I wanted to love it - and I did, I really, really did - the story seemed to annoy me more with each page I turned. A huge problem, for me anyway, is that much of the plot revolves around Gaia's love square (yes, three guys are fighting for her attention). The fact that she encourages each of them and still can't decide which to choose just gets irritating after awhile. I can understand her confusion, though, since none of the three had enough personality to stand out - I couldn't keep track of who was who either. Outside of Gaia's romantic issues, not a lot of other stuff really happens, even though there's plenty of built-in conflict that offers potential for intriguing subplots. The problems that do arise for Gaia seem to resolve themselves too easily, resulting in an unrealistic and unsatisfying storyline.

On the plus side, I found the idea of a Sylum-type community fascinating. Terrifying, but definitely interesting. Since so much of the people's lives revolve around childbirth, the story brings up pertinent questions about issues like abortion, adoption, a woman's right to choose, unfit mothers, gender roles, etc. Those sections made me think, much more so than all of Gaia's lover's quarrels.

So, back to my original question: Was Prized worth the wait? Mostly no, although I'm glad to know how Gaia's escape into the wilderness ended and, even though I didn't love Prized, I'm still anxious to see where the story goes next. I just wish this book offered more excitement, more depth, more suspense. More of what I loved about Birthmarked. I'm not ready to write off Caragh M. O'Brien just yet - in fact I'm looking forward to Promised, the final book in the trilogy. My enthusiasm's just a little more cautious now, that's all.

(Readalikes: Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien and Delirium by Lauren Oliver)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense situations

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Prized from the generous folks at Roaring Brook Press (a division of Macmillan). Thank you!


  1. That's a shame. (Not that I read the first one. I don't love Dystopians). It sounded really interesting until the Love Square. No thanks. I hated the way Katniss couldn't choose between two guys in Mockingjay. It totally killed it for me. I'm sure this one would niggle at me even more.

  2. So what about the boy she was with in the Enclave that helped her out and kind of risked his life to get her out. Is he in the book at all--or is she just with these other guys??

  3. Susan - I know - that's exactly how I felt. The dystopian worlds the author creates are fascinating. But the love square? Ick.

    The Allgaiers - Yep, Leon's in this one. I won't tell you how he gets to Sylum or why he comes, only that he's there :)

  4. I found you via a BBAW recommendation. As a fellow librarian I decided to follow you so that I could get even more YA book recommendations for my students. I look forward to "getting to know you" better in the future.

    My Head is Full of Books

  5. I didn't like the first. I wonder if that means I'll hate this one even more or really like it.

  6. Anne - Thanks so much! I know I've stopped by your blog before, but I'll have to drop by more frequently.

    I'm actually not a librarian, although I probably would have been had the college I attended not axed their library science program just before I enrolled! I hope I can give you lots of great recommendations - I hope you'll give me some in return :)

    Jenny - Good question. I really liked the first one, wasn't so hot for this one. Maybe you'll be the opposite??

  7. Say it ain't so! I am looking forward to this one a lot. Now I guess I'll read it (in November, darn it) with a grain of salt.


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