27 December 2011

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

In this Young Adult post-apocalyptic story of the future of North America, the only surviving continent, a scientific attempt to eradicate all diseases results in new generations having a limited life span. Boys can only grow up to reach the age of twenty-five before a fatal virus attacks their system and kills them. Girls only live to the age of twenty. Because of this known death sentence, maturity is escalated and marriages begin young for reproduction. Rhine, a sixteen-year-old living in Manhattan which is completely different from what we know it to be, is kidnapped by the Gatherers to be sold as a bride into a wealthy home in order to continue their bloodline. Separated from her only family, her twin brother Rowan, she is hurried into a car with other young girls, while gunshots ring outside of the car for those not deemed worthy of the sale.

Arriving at her new "home," Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily, become the young brides for the son of the house, Linden. Cecily, the youngest bride at thirteen, is away from the orphanages that are so common in this new future and is excited about her new life. Rhine and Jenna, unhappy at being separated from their families, initially direct their hatred to their husband, Linden, but it's his father who is the lurking and malevolent presence. As a member of the "first generation" that engineered the accidental virus, he is now relentlessly pursuing the antidote at all costs and his presence hints at much more he is capable of doing. It's up to Rhine to figure out a way to ultimately escape a mansion with no visible entrance, to return to her twin brother, and to also deal with the conflicting emotions of loyalty for her sister-wives, and the passion she has for a servant in the house, Gabriel. Slowly, Rhine also begins to realize that Linden isn't the warden of this extravagant "prison," but rather his father is the one to fear.

Note: Keep in mind that this is my opinion only and I'm sharing with you my reading experience of this popular book, so please check out the other reviews I've linked to at the bottom that can give you a different perspective. There are a few mini-spoilers throughout this review, but nothing I think could affect what you might expect or already know about this book, but to play it on the safe side, only those who have read the book should continue to read on...

What I enjoy about science-fiction is that both the plot and the actions are, while a bit far-fetched at times, usually plausible. I'm no expert on science or evolution, but with Wither, I was nagged by my logical side and I often debated the inconsistencies. I tried to tell myself to let it go, but I was reminded that this is not what you do with science fiction; normally, you can feel the foundation of the story and imagine this new world. Sometimes, you can even close a book and reflect on the possibilities outlined in the story and believe it could happen. With Wither, unfortunately I was left confused and disappointed. I thought the story was interesting and the pacing was good, but I was uncomfortable with several aspects in where the story went and, most especially, in the character development.

In Rhine's old life, North America is desolate and her options are nil. Her parents were killed and she and her twin are left to fend for themselves in a house that is fiercely cold and filled with rats. With little food to keep them alive, they are forced to sleep in shifts so they can keep watch for any potential intruders. The Manhattan they live in is an industrial and bleak wasteland of factories and there is no hope...

But now, Rhine lives in a sprawling mansion, with food so incredible and in unlimited quantities. There are golf courses, pools with incredible underworld holograms which give one the illusion they are swimming in underwater shipwrecks, or swimming with schools of fish and dolphins. There is a full library of books to read, custom clothing to wear and magical baths to take.

Let me get this out of the way: Abduction and rape are nightmares, and completely illegal in the world we know today. In the world Wither portrayed, though, I don't think there would be a need for abductions to supply girls for marriage. Here's why: This new post-apocalyptic world is about a few generations into this automatic virus which kicks in at certain ages depending on gender. I would imagine "survival of the fittest" would come into play and each person would now be vying for the opportunity to escape their squalid life in a wasteland, to move into a mansion and have unlimited food and warmth for the short amount of time they had on earth, right? In the world of Wither, it would seem that the overall mindset would now change as each generation is born, and the goal would be to end up in one of these marriages. After all, it's not as though not being in a marriage gives you the chance to live longer: Everyone dies at 25 and 20, bottom line, whether married or not. If it's "freedom" Rhine's looking for, wouldn't she rather sacrifice this version of it in order to live in comfort rather than almost dying every day, miserable conditions swallowing her up? I think people would be fighting to get into the mansions, and abductions wouldn't be common at all.

My other frustration was with Linden and Gabriel, the two that create a love "triangle" for Rhine, which is a loose description for something that doesn't feel fleshed out and might be coming in the next installment. But I felt nothing for either of them, which may be because I didn't know much about them. Linden is described as fragile and weak but has a brilliant mind for architecture, and he pines for his true love, Rose, the wife before Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily show up. That's it. There aren't long conversations with him, he doesn't seem interested to ask anything at all about Rhine's life before coming to his house, he doesn't understand the eventual bond that the wives have with each other, and overall, he seems pretty weak-willed about everything. I don't understand why Rhine, a seemingly tough young lady, would feel even the slightest bit of interest for him.

The servant, Gabriel, is only familiar with the orphanage he lived in before being purchased to work as a servant in this mansion. Other than that, he is so vaguely described and there isn't even a physical description of him. I even went back to the point of when he first enters the story and still couldn't find out what this kid looked like. At some point, Rhine describes him as being bigger than Linden, but it seems like anyone could be since Linden is so frail. It wasn't until the end of the story that I finally found out he had blue eyes. I still don't know what color hair he has, though.

But the primary angle I couldn't understand with Gabriel was his motivation to leave this life. He's only lived in an orphanage before working in this extravagant mansion, and I couldn't grasp his willingness to risk it all for one of the wives. I could write it off and say he just loves Rhine, but I think there's only so much of the "willing suspension of disbelief" that I can give. Did he fully understand the risk he was taking? I don't know.

With a statement like the one below, I expected to really know Gabriel and why they had such a connection with each other. 
Gabriel's voice can reach me anywhere. Even in a hurricane. (p.185)
This is my opinion only, so please do take a look at the below links. I will seek out the second book to see how it plays out. My disappointment for Wither is centered around the fact that this is such an interesting idea for a story, and the author does have a wonderful ability at times to convey actions and events, that these inconsistencies stick out and brought such a disappointment. Here's what I think would have been interesting for our hero, Rhine: I would have much preferred Rhine to plot for a way to take over the house, locate her brother and bring him to the compound so that they could all be safe together. Why leave all this food, warmth, and shelter behind?

Did I miss it? What did you think of this book?

This book will be included on an upcoming giveaway, so stay tuned!
About the Author
Lauren DeStefano is the celebrated author of the popular Young Adult dystopian fiction The Chemical Garden Trilogy. The second book to the series, Fever, will be released by Simon & Schuster in February 2012.

Click here to visit the author on her website.
Click here to follow the author on Twitter.
Click here to like the author on Facebook.


  1. I haven't read this yet, but your review is very well thought out. What you're saying makes a lot of sense!

  2. I really appreciate your thoughts on this one. The book has been wildly popular, but I'm not sure it's for me.

  3. This is the first review I've seen of this book. But I have to agree, one thing science fiction needs to do is make sense with regard to human nature, since the "worlds" are so different than our own. If it doesn't pass the test, you have a right to mention it, and I really appreciated your take on this!

  4. I read this and had some issues with it as well, but your review really brought a lot of the inconsistencies of the story back to the surface for me. I also don't understand why the girls had to be kidnapped, or why everything was forced on them, but I think in my review, my main gripe was about the slowness of the plotting. I think the part that I enjoyed the most was the interactions between the sister wives. A very intelligent review today, Natalie, I enjoyed reading it and thinking about this book again. I have the second in the series sitting here waiting for me, so I will have to let you know what I think!

  5. I would like to read more YA but there are so many books out there and so many overwhelmingly positive reviews that it's hard to find the best ones. Thanks for the balanced review of this book.

  6. I was also bothered by the way things were not really fleshed out between Rhine, Linden, and Gabriel. For example, why was she the SPOILER ALERT 'first wife' when she was the only bride who wasn't intimate with him? I saw nothing between them to show that she should be the favorite. And I wasn't exactly sure why she and Gabriel were running away together. I enjoyed reading the book and will be keeping up with the series, but I think the world-building could definitely have been better.

  7. I have had great luck with this genre recently so I plan on reading this one. I'm anxious to see how I like it.

  8. Ohhhh Natalie what a beautiful new blog design! And I've seen this book around and have wanted to read it. What a great review! love, love, love your new site!

  9. I'm loving the look of your blog!! Gorgeous! Very classy and elegant.

    I appreciate your honesty. It is always good when a reviewer shares what they truly thought about a book and doesn't "give in" to what the majority of people feel. It can be hard to do at times but it is always appreciated.