Book Review: Marked by Laura Williams McCaffrey

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Title: Marked
Author: Laura Williams McCaffrey
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult



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Laura Williams McCaffrey
Clarion Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-547-23556-1

From the publisher—

Sixteen-year-old Lyla lives in a bleak, controlling society where only the brightest and most favored students succeed. When she is caught buying cheats in an underground shadow market, she is tattooed—marked—as a criminal. Then she is offered redemption and she jumps at the chance . . . but it comes at a cost. Doing what is right means betraying the boy she has come to love, and, perhaps, losing even more than she thought possible. Graphic novel–style vignettes revealing the history of this world provide Lyla with guidance and clues to a possible way out of the double bind she finds herself in.

Marked has been the cause of me losing a bit of sleep and the reason is simple—I can’t quite figure out whether I like it or not. Actually, there are aspects of it that I do like but some that I really don’t and what I can’t figure out is where the balance lies between the two sides.

On the plus side, I’m intrigued first by the idea that, in this dystopian society, someone from the lower class can better herself simply through education. That in itself elevates the story above all the dystopians that rely on fighting and manipulation to improve status and the fact that Lyla blows her chance doesn’t take away from the premise that the value of education is recognized, even though in limited form.

Thanks be, we have an intact, loving family, not a teenager trying to survive on her own. Families in dystopian novels are few and far between so I truly am grateful to the author for this.

I also like the notion of Lyla becoming a C.I., a confidential informant. Call her a spy or what have you, she’s a C.I. and I think she’s a good representation of what such a person has to deal with. Yes, she’s a snitch and her reason for doing it is totally selfish; that makes her highly suspect but we also get to see her begin to understand what’s really at stake if she carries out her assignment.

I can’t say I had a good understanding about whether the rebellion is entirely a positive thing because there seem to be some gray areas. That probably is the way of most real struggles between ideologies and I appreciate the author’s adding that confusion to the mix but I think a little more certainty might have been helpful.

The biggest weakness, to my way of thinking, is the almost complete lack of worldbuilding. I want to know how we got here, why the people in power do the things they do, what caused the severe schism between the classes, what changes the rebellion might bring about, and so much more, but none of that is in this story.

Finally, Ms. McCaffrey includes pages of what we think of as graphic novels that sort of correlate to Lyla’s own existence. That’s an interesting approach and is most likely quite effective in a print edition of the book but it didn’t work so well on my Nook because the artwork isn’t there. It shows up in versions I look at on my computer but I read on my Nook. Whatever is going on, I didn’t have the benefit of the artwork, only the words, so I can’t really say how much it adds to the story.

Bottomline, I do like Marked despite its few failings and will be interested to see if Ms. McCaffrey will follow up with a sequel. I’d like to know more about Lyla and her world.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.


Sneak peek — the first episode of Threatened Alchemyks,
the serialized story Lyla reads in Marked.

Illustrations by Sally Cantirino


Laura Williams McCaffrey Graphic Novel Page


About the Author

Laura Williams McCaffreyI read, I write, I teach. I’ve published short stories in Cicada, YA Review Network, Solstice Literary Magazine, and Soundings Review. Clarion Books will release Marked, my YA dystopian fantasy, in February 2016. My other fantasy novels are Water Shaper and Alia Waking (both published by Clarion Books). For more information, it’s best to visit my website:

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Marked by Laura Williams McCaffrey

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