Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

"It doesn’t matter how much his mother loves him; love is not enough to keep any of us alive."
Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a dystopia young adult novel set in the future where as a consequence of genetic engineering males only live to be twenty-five years old, and women only live to twenty. Afraid that the population will vanish if it is not quickly replenished, young women are kidnapped and forced in polygamous marriages. One such woman in Rhine, a sixteen-year-old girl taken as a bride to Linden, a twenty-one-year-old man who's first wife and love is dying and who's father has replaced her with three new brides for him. Rhine soon realizes that Linden really does care for her, and she also begins to form a friendship with her two sister wives, but that doesn't stop her from her one true goal: to escape, and go home to her twin brother who has no idea where she has disappeared to. In order to be free again, Rhine will have to contend with Linden's dangerous father who grows even more suspicious as Rhine's attachment to her servant Gabriel grows stronger...

One of the first things that drew me to this book, bad self, is the gorgeous cover. But once I had finished reading it I did have a complaint or two about its accuracy. For one, I do wish that Rhine's eyes were open. One of the most unique things about the girl is the fact that she is heterochromatic- one blue eye, one brown- and I think it would have been a subtle but interesting trait to have in the picture.  I also don't quite understand why there is a bird, I understand that like Rhine the bird is "caged", and the circle around her hand with her wedding ring on it indicates perhaps that she is trapped by her marriage, but it seems a bit silly and forced. That said, it may have been the cover which initially attracted me, but it was the story and writing that keep me turning the page.

Wither is certainly a dystopia, but like Lauren Oliver in Delirium, DeStefano deals with real feelings even if the context is imaginary.  The world Rhine is living in is incredibly different than the ones teens face today but DeStefano manages to capture her essence in a way that is completely relatable. Some of my favourite parts of the book had nothing at all to do with the plot or potential romance, but rather focused on the loss of innocence and nostalgia Rhine, like all teens, faces as she grows up. Of course in her case it is at an exponentially faster rate because she will die so young, but it is so beautiful the way DeStefano has her look back on her past, reflecting:
"Life is much different from the days when there were lilies in my mother’s garden, and all my secrets fit into a paper cup."
When it comes to the world-building aspect of Wither, I felt DeStefano was pretty successful. The idea of a perfect generation followed by diseased offspring fated to die young was original and certainly captures some of the current fears regarding genetic engineering particularly when it comes to humans. The only issue I had was that I occasionally found some of the details vague, and wished DeStefano had elaborated more on exactly what was happening to the people who were dying, which sounds a bit like tuberculosis because she has them coughing up blood, but was an area of the story I wished had been clarified. Another question I was left with was wondering why the rest of the kidnapped girls were killed when they weren't selected as brides- if wombs are so valuable, wouldn't any womb do? And even if they weren't wanted as brides, why did they need to be killed? Although I understand the killing of the girls as a motivation for Rhine to want to escape Linden's mansion, within the broader context of the world she created I didn't think DeStefano addressed this aspect very well.

The characters in Wither were all interesting and believable, and I particularly enjoyed the relationships between Rhine and her sister wives. There was a darkness and defeat in her older sister wife Jenna that was both complex and heartbreaking, in strong contrast to her young sister wife Cecila who is bent on being Linden's favourite even if it means turning her body into a baby factory. The young servants that served the women were painful to read about, as they clearly showed how even a prison can become a home. The only character I had a major problem with was Linden, who felt terribly clueless about pretty much everything.

In general, it was the romantic storylines- Rhine's relationship with both Linden and Gabriel- that I found less interesting than her personal struggles. DeStefano also included a decent number of plot twists that kept me quickly turning the page. Wither is definitely an engaging debut novel, and as the first in a trilogy I am eager to find out exactly what Linden's father is hiding in the basement. Overall, interesting characters and a clear, smooth writing style are what make Wither a memorable debut from DeStefano and although there are aspects I wish would have been fleshed out further I look forward to seeing what happens in the next book. 

Release Date: March 22nd, 2011
Pages: 356
: 4/5

Source: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab
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