Gaia reached to pull Peony near in a hug for what little comfort that could convey. The choice was not simple for Gaia either, nor free from grief, but she had to support Peony in whatever she decided. Never again would she be party to the crime of taking choices away from mothers (p 58).
At the conclusion of Birthmarked (read my review), Gaia was fleeing into the wasteland. Now, on the brink of starvation, she and her little sister, Maya, are picked up by a rugged man named Peter and taken to Sylum, a town surrounding a marsh. For every girl in Sylum there are nine men and the ratio becomes more unbalanced every year. Women, led my a Matrarc, impose harsh social codes that punish uncondoned physical contact between the sexes and pregnant, unwed women.
**Some minor spoilers**
As with the first book in the Birthmarked Trilogy, there were things I enjoyed and things I really didn’t.
The world building is solid. O’Brien’s dystopias have clear rules and strong sense of place while introducing mysterious elements. In Prized, the power situation is reversed. In Sylum, Gaia has all the power and Leon has none. Yet both will learn to garner and wield power.
I was less satisfied with the character development. Gaia, who had such a strong sense of self and endurance in the first book, seemed pixilated and impressionable in this new setting. After defying the much more powerful Enclave, she submitted to Sylum and the Matrarc so meekly.
It still made her uneasy to think of the strange, charismatic power the Matrarc had had over her, as if she’d been able to see deep inside her (p 351).
The Matrarc and her mystical powers never jived with me (so I’m chalking it up to all the dope they were unintentionally inhaling). Romantic elements seemed willy-nilly and unharmonious, like this serious response Gaia gives to a potential suitor which comes across like a breakup line.
“You have to trust that things will work out all right,” she said, shifting on her hard seat. “Sometimes it’s not about control.”
Then again, teens with raging hormones and little control over their urges will identify with Gaia’s wandering eye and desire to act out physically on those inclinations (and then renege). After all, what is one little kiss or touch? But, considering the Matrarc’s voodoo control over Gaia (and the whole community), this belief seemed out of character.
It also irked me that Peter and Leon, two of Gaia’s suitor’s, seemed more interested in possessing Gaia rather than actually winning her favor. They would extract promises from her to restrict her actions.
Ultimately an uneven, didactic read that left me under-whelmed.
Advance reader copy via NetGalley | November 8, 2011 | Roaring Brook Press | 368 pages | ISBN: 978-1596435704 | Ages 14 and up | $16.99
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