Birthmarked - Caragh M. O'Brien
Birthmarked was an impulse buy, despite the fact I barely had money for groceries.

But I'm pleased (and relieved) that I loved it, with all its bittersweet beauty and tragedy that really struck chords and meant something, instead of what's now the fashion: tragedy to be tragic.

I adored the characters, firstly. They each had unique voices, their own set of flaws, and realistic reactions and interactions. And I adore Leon. For some reason it's pretty rare nowadays that I fall for the male romantic lead of a female-driven teen book (mostly because they're all the same: mopey, slightly abusive and obsessive, and only defined by their love for the main protag), but Leon . . . well, he's special. To use a cliche, he was the onion whose layers were peeled back little by little at every mention. And, holy crap, each layer was insightful, beautiful, or disturbing, sometimes all together. There were little peeks to different sides of him now and then, and I would need to stop reading to smile and geek out a little bit.

Gaia was a very strong and true heroine to me. She followed her own instincts; what she really thought was right. And yeah, she made mistakes, but she learned from them. She didn't think of romance all the time, or to be saved. She found her own way out. She found allies by herself, instead of having others map out her journey for her. Gaia's smart, she's true to her own morals, and she's independent without being characterized as aloof or the stereotypical "strong female." (one which I personally despise, as many writers seem to think the only way to make a girl character strong is to masculinize her. Dang Gaia is just such a refreshing person to read about. Maybe it's just what I've been reading before that makes me think of her so extremely highly, but I can't help but fawn over her beauty and strength).

Pacing was fairly good overall. Plot advanced exciting without needing unnecessary "special effects." Not just action propels Birthmarked: it's character reaction, little plot twists, and discovering mysteries, either about the plot or about the characters themselves.

If I had to make some criticisms, it'd be about O'Brien's writing. This kind of read like a second draft sometimes, with needless descriptors like "she was terrified" or "she shrieked in panic," etc. Actions and dialogue were constantly explained, even though it was clear through the actions and words. However, most of the time I could ignore these, as the story was incredibly gripping and beautiful.

Also Maya must be the best baby ever, hardly ever crying when she was being held by someone running through the rain and jumping across long distances.

That aside, I can't wait to read the sequel.