January 18, 2011

Review: WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano
Young Adult
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Hardcover, 368 pages
March 22, 2011

From Goodreads.com:

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 limited time she has left.

The cover: Am I the only one who thinks the cover model looks like Lauren Conrad? I was drawn to the cover because — Hey! Is that Lauren Conrad? — but the geometric designs, which continue throughout the book, and the juxtaposition of soft, flowing dress versus wild, frizzy hair piqued my interest. The cover is more symbolic than literal, but it does a lovely job in conveying DeStefano's dark, lush setting, as well as main character Rhine's deep inner conflict.

The book: I love the name Rhine, and I was relieved that her twin was not called Rhone.

As the narrator, Rhine is very aware of herself, even as she tries to define her own intense, contentious emotions and the motivations of those around her. WITHER is a harrowing but captivating read. Each time I set it down, I itched to pick it back up, wondering what the next page would bring.

Rhine and her sister wives are vividly painted. I was pleased that Ms. DeStefano did not take the very done route of jealous wives fighting over their shared husband. WITHER is deeper than that, and while the relationship between Rhine and her sister wives is complicated, and at times tinged with jealousy, it is not the defining factor in their interactions. The details of Rhine's life within her captor/husband's mansion, as well as her longing to be free, even at the cost of security, are richly depicted, though I would have liked a clearer physical description of Linden and his menacing father, Housemaster Vaughn.

The way in which the world, post-apocalypse, actually functioned left me confused. Sometimes the world seemed desolate and desperate, and sometimes it seemed as if nothing but the addition of new technologies and the shortening of human lives had changed. Maybe this is Ms. DeStefano's intention, to underscore the fact that society had digressed into one of extreme haves and have-nots, where some live like rats and others like kings?

The Chemical Garden Trilogy, of which WITHER is the first book, has me intrigued. After finishing WITHER, I ran to the computer to see if any information was available about the second book, but so far, no luck. I wonder how the rest of the trilogy will proceed. Will we pick up Rhine's story? Other characters from Linden and Vaughn's world? Rhine's brother, Rowan? Or will it go in a direction like Susan Beth Pfeffer's LIFE AS WE KNEW IT books, in which a new set of characters within the same world are introduced? Ms. DeStefano offers a few clues, but I look forward to finding out for sure when a description of the second book comes out.

Recommended especially for: Lovers of dystopian, strong female characters, and stories about longing for freedom.

ARC courtesy of Holly Dodson.


Pam Harris said...

So jealous that you got to read this! I've heard so many great things about this book, and now I only want to read it more. :)

Chic Fit Geek said...

this sounds really interesting. Before Hunger Games, I didn't even know what dystopian was. Now I'm a huge fan. Can't wait to read this one too!

Krispy said...

I've had my eye on this one for a while. Can't wait until it's out so I can finally read it!

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