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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither (Chemical Garden, #1)WITHER BY LAUREN DESTEFANO  

Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 368 pages 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing; 1 edition (March 22, 2011)

What if you knew exactly when you would die? 

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

How do you sum up a book like Wither? Two words. Disturbingly Beautiful.

Right from the start I was plunged headfirst into a world where women and men all die before ever reaching thirty. Where young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages or even worse (yes it gets worse), they are rejected for the brothel houses. Sometimes if they're really of no use, they're murdered and left by the side of the road in a ditch. What kind of twisted world was this? Well I thought it was one that I could easily see evolving in our own society should a virus outbreak occur like the one in Wither. Look at all the horror stories you hear every day about people being forced into sexual slavery. It's not such a far stretch to imagine the Gatherer vans circling around all our neighborhoods, greedily hunting down pretty young girls to abduct.  And this is what made Wither both agonizingly  emotional but also insanely riveting for me. Rhine, Jenna and Cecily- these girls could easily be any of us. They could be your sister, your best friend or even you yourself.

Needless to say, Wither was a roller coaster ride of emotions for me- ups and downs, highs and lows- it never stopped. There was no "getting used to" the situation either. Right from page one I was thrown into the back of a Gatherer van as Rhine tried to sort through the chaos of being kidnapped. Wow, what a way to reel the reader in!

I  initially assumed I'd dislike the other sister wives but I actually developed a strong affection for both of them, even though Cecily's immature personality drove me crazy at times. I understood why she was the way she was though. She was thirteen when she was forced to marry Linden. Can you imagine yourself at thirteen getting married? It gives me chills to contemplate.

What really surprised me though was how much I ached for Rhine’s twin brother Rowan,  which was interesting because he wasn’t actually ever “on screen”.  Rowan was only brought to life through reflective musings in the Rhine's mind but he was constantly in my thoughts nonetheless. It broke my heart to think of Rhine being  being ripped apart from him. And as such, I mourned when Rhine mourned over the loss of her brother.

I assumed Linden, Rhine's husband, would only be this monster in my eyes. Yes, he was a clueless pedophile without any sort of backbone. But I also thought he was sort of a pitiable puppet being worked like a dancing marionette by his distasteful mad scientist of a father, House Master Vaughn. And you know what? Because I never knew what House Master Vaughn was cooking up in his creepy old basement, it instilled even more of a sense of urgency into the narrative for me.

Wither was a darkly haunting, well-written Young Adult novel that blew into my life like a breath of fresh air and revitalized my interest in the YA genre. Oddly enough, I didn't want to read this book when I first received it. The idea of forced polygamous marriages didn't appeal to me as a reader. I'm fairly new to this dystopian fiction and I admit, Wither sat on my shelf for a little bit. But I'm so happy I did give it a chance because. Lately I've had a hard time with reading Young Adult at all to be completely honest. For me, the genre has become bloated at the seams with the same plot lines and characters recycled over and over (especially the socially awkward young girl whose life has no meaning until she meets hot supernatural boy, ad nauseum). But Wither gave me hope that things are changing—that there will be more protagonists who are strong, self-confident young women like Rhine. Characters who don't need a hot guy to define who they are and make life worth living for. (I could rant about this until I'm blue in the face, but Steph Su really summed it up with a well-thought out blog post which you can read here).

For those that enjoy  romance (and don't get me wrong, I love a good one too), there was definitely romance blossoming in the background of Wither. I appreciated though that it was tastefully done and never overshadowed the importance of the story (for a change).  For me the romance symbolized hope in even the darkest of times and I can't wait to see how Rhine and Gabriel's story intertwines in the next book.

Wither is now hands down my favorite 2011 debut novel so far.  Keep up the great work Lauren DeStefano!

Lauren DeStefano was born in New Haven, Connecticut and has never traveled far from the east coast. She received a BA in English from Albertus Magnus College recently, and has been writing since childhood. She made her authorial debut by writing on the back of children's menus at restaurants and filling up the notepads in her mom's purse. Her very first manuscript was written on a yellow legal pad with red pen, and it was about a haunted shed that ate small children.

Now that she is all grown up (for the most part), she writes fiction for young adults. Her failed career aspirations include: world's worst receptionist, coffee house barista, sympathetic tax collector, and English tutor. When she isn't writing, she's screaming obscenities at her Nintendo DS, freaking her cats out with the laser pen, or rescuing thrift store finds and reconstructing them into killer new outfits.
Official Website 


Anonymous said...

I'm telling you you have to try the hunger games! Katniss is a strong independent 16 year old girl
you have to give it a try

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review. I'm on the fence about this one.

Book Butterfly (Kim) said...

Kate- I have read the Hunger Games. Tina at Fantastic Book Review got me hooked on them. Can't wait for the movie! :) Thanks for the recommendation though and keep 'em coming!

Book Butterfly (Kim) said...

Juju- I hear you. It's not an easy read LOL

Angelica Joy said...

Wonderful Review! I loved "Wither" finished it in two sittings...actually just finished yesterday!

However, I'm kinda fenced between Linden and Gabriel. I'm sure in the next book it'll show Gabriel's and Rhine's connection but for "Wither" I felt that Linden and Rhine had more of a connection. just my opinion though LOL