Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

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Gaia, a strong willed teenager, is taking after her mother and becoming the town midwife for Western Sector Three. This sector serves Enclave, the pristine hub city which does not permit outsiders in - with the exception of infants. Infants allow growth and genetic variation of the Enclave and most mothers have been brainwashed into believing giving their babies up seconds after birth is an honor. "The people who founded the Enclave planned carefully for years to build this oasis from scratch. We're the ones who developed the post-oil technology. We harnessed the solar and geothermal energy.." (chapter 8). These were the few "civilized humans" who traded in their nomadic lifestyle and started anew after a climate change stricken world disrupted everything. They allowed only a select few to inhabit the city but took care of the outsiders living in the outskirts. Enclave and Western Sector Three are located on the shores of "Unlake Superior," which after hundreds of years of pipeline use has been left an "empty basin that sank into a valley of granite, with alluvial fans of boulders and ledges of aspen and wildflowers." (chapter 3).

This young adult novel is written extremely well and makes mention of climate disasters often. It would be a great class read to touch on not only climate change but social injustice issues as well as economic issues. This novel would be young men and women and could be read independently or as a class read. There is little violence, no harsh language, and minimal/no explicit scenes.

Discussion Questions

1. The main reason for Lake Superior becoming an "unlake" in this novel was due to pipelines taking water to the south. Do you see this ever becoming a reality with our changing climate and use of pipelines?
2. What are the mycoproteins they refer to in this novel? What are they used for?
3. What type of life were people living between modern day society (2016) and they way Western Sector Three/Enclave citizens are living?
4. What genetic disorder resulted from building this climate change "oasis," the Enclave?

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Quotes on Climate Change in the 2000's

"Her father smiled. "In the cool age, people used to have satellites passing electrical signals all over the world, and cars and roads and all those things we see in the films at the Tvaltar, but that's all gone. It all took energy. Like magic."" (chapter 10).

"He put a hand on his hip and arched backward briefly. "The cool age ended when the fuel was used up, and it was too late for the masses to adjust, I guess. Crops failed. Some illness. A few wars. They couldn't move around what little food they could grow, I guess. It takes a lot to feed people, Gaia. We forget. We're lucky here. There are smart people running the Enclave, and we don't do so badly ourselves outside the wall."" (chapter 10)

Created by Alexis Coutts, email: