Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Rhine Ellery lives in a future world where genetic science has unexpectedly shortened women’s lifespans to 20 and men’s to 25. In Rhine’s world, girls are often kidnapped to become brides for rich men desperate to procreate before their time runs out. When Rhine is kidnapped to be one of House Governor Linden’s brides, all she wants is to escape and go back to her old life with her twin brother, despite her new luxurious surroundings.
Linden is not a bad man, but still Rhine dreams of the day when she can finally escape. As she gets to know her sister-wives and a servant named Gabriel, Rhine struggles to hold onto herself and the idea of home that she wants to go back to.
WITHER is a stunner of a dystopian YA debut. It immediately blew its way onto my favorites list, and does its breathtaking cover and alluring jacket summary justice.
I’ll be honest: at first I thought that WITHER’s premise was going to be all flash and no substance, but Lauren DeStefano immersed me in Rhine’s world quite convincingly. Reading WITHER is perhaps a lot like looking at an enchanted old piece of art: things look discolored and damaged at the surface, but you’re drawn to the magic whispering of beauty beneath. Neither Rhine’s world nor the writing feels particularly “pretty”: the narration often seems to be told at a distance from its occurrence, and I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the very concept that a world in which people died before the age of 25 could exist as a potential future for us.
Nevertheless, there’s something about the story that compels you to keep reading. Trapped both physically and emotionally by her situation, Rhine cannot be as vibrant a protagonist as others have been, but we still feel drawn to her and are amazed by her doggedness, though we might not necessarily empathize with or even like her. The story’s setup may feel a little far-fetched, but it’s the careful and thorough character development and emotional range that brought me to my knees before this book’s achievement. There is no melodrama here: for example, Rhine’s sister-wives’ reactions to their shared situation feel instinctual. Gabriel worms his way into our hearts as subtly and dependently as he does Rhine’s, but even Linden gets our sympathy vote, and it becomes truly difficult to decide whether Rhine is better off with Gabriel or Linden. The only character who seems a little underdeveloped is Housemaster Vaughn, he of the dreaded Voldemort-esque presence over the entire household.
Others I’ve talked to have mentioned a slight disconnect they felt from Rhine, her world, and other characters, but I didn’t really have this problem. Rhine keeps a cool face yet simmers with anger and despair within—and she has every reason to be so. After all, no matter how luxurious her new life is, it was not by choice, and yet she has to act at least grateful lest her captors easily replace her with another girl they steal off the streets.
WITHER is one hell of a powerful read, intriguing, thought-provoking, and an amazing example of dystopian literature at its best. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a story that will immerse them utterly in a strange and ominous world with characters that will imprint themselves on your heart. I have no doubt that this book will stay on my “Best of 2011” list at the end of this year.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Cover discussion: 5 out of 5 - This has got to be hard to beat as my favorite cover of 2011. It has everything: a stunning use of complementary colors, texture, geometric elaboration. I was blown away.
Simon & Schuster / Mar. 22, 2011 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $17.99
Received from publisher for review. A million thank yous!