Book Reviews

[review] Wither – Lauren DeStefano

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 she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

Discovery: I’d never heard of this book before I picked it up in April, along with Darkest Mercy.

+     Emotional depth.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but dystopians that deal with emotional issues tend to become my favourites. It was easy to get invested in Rhine’s problems and to feel her pain. What makes her dilemma more troubling is that it isn’t just about her: her brother, her twin, is out there and he’s alone. I have a younger brother and I can’t imagine the torment I would be suffering if I was ever forced to leave him in a dangerous place.

The weight of Linden’s admiration for Rhine is also heavy on her neck. It isn’t Linden’s fault that he was born wealthy, but neither is he completely blameless. Rhine is a teenager, for all intent and purposes, and it’s difficult enough navigating a love life without the pressures of procreation to deal with.

+    Gorgeous prose. This novel wouldn’t have succeeded in portraying those emotional turns without Lauren DeStefano’s brilliantly-nuanced prose. The places, people and emotions she writes about become breathing characters on the page, infecting the reader with an undeniable need to see them get what they deserve. The entire novel is an exercise in melancholia, but the writing style DeStefano works with prevents it from sinking into depression. It is a sad, sad world that Rhine lives in, and the reader learns to take hope in Rhine’s own clear determination and passion for a free life.

–     Vague world-building. Geographically- and economically-speaking, I have no idea where Rhine is supposed to be living. I understand that she is taken from New York to Florida, but none of it makes sense. If anything, Florida would be one of the first places to fall to any natural disaster. The gifts and foods that she and the other girls are given wouldn’t be found locally, but in areas that are gone.  If only America survived, where would they be getting these things? An endless stock supply?

Recommendations: Wither is a book that presents new things to ponder with each reread, but regular dystopian readers may also find plotholes that I hope will be resolved in the next two books.

Rating: Very good.

Go check out Lauren DeStefano’s website and follow her on Twitter @laurendestefano.

Next review: Circle of Fire, Michelle Zink

(I’m also giving away a copy! The giveaway is until August 21, so you have plenty of time to enter.)

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