Wither~ Lauren DeStefano
Plot Summary: (From Amazon) At age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years to live. Thanks to a botched effort to create a perfect race, all females live to age twenty, and males live to age twenty-five. While geneticists seek a miracle antidote, the world is crumbling: Orphans roam the streets, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and polygamy abounds.
When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to escape. But then her husband, Linden, exposes her to a world of wealth and decadence she never knew existed. Even if she can’t quite hate her husband, though, she knows to fear her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote and who may or may not be hoarding corpses in his basement lab. At the same time, Rhine is growing dangerously close to Gabriel, a house servant. Will she be able to escape the mansion—before her time runs out?
The month of May has been FULL of dystopian lit for me (From Divergent, to Ashfall, to Wither and The Selection), and shockingly I’m still not tired of it. Seeing the way each author creates their individual dystopian world never fails to fascinate me, whether it’s from a natural disaster or the more insidious failure of human nature itself.
Wither falls firmly in the latter camp. Scientists believed that they’d found the cure to all the ailments plaguing humankind, only to realize that they’d unwittingly implanted all children with a genetic time-bomb that would lead to certain death at age 20 or 25.
I got on Goodreads the other night to updated that I’d finished the book, and was immediately shocked by all of the negative reviews. People were TEARING up Lauren DeStefano’s world-building in this one, and it totally shocked me. Especially with the current popularity of “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein, I was having trouble grasping why people didn’t immediately characterize Rhine as the Unreliable Narrator. Everything that we’re told about what the world has become comes directly from her, and her limited experience and exposure.
We don’t know why the entire world except for the United States is flooded. (My current theory: It probably isn’t.)
We don’t know what mutation is causing the premature death of all children born after the miraculous First Generation.
Why weren’t people’s life cycles changing to adapt to their shortened life expectancy? Um… Cecily delivers her first child at age thirteen. That seems pretty young to me. I don’t doubt that elsewhere people were voluntarily entering into marriage at a younger age, but Rhine’s personal experience is that of being kidnapped and forced into marrying a House Governor.
Everything that we are told is a reflection of Rhine’s experience. To immediately jump to the conclusion that DeStefano sucks at worldbuilding seems unnecessarily harsh to me.
In case you can’t tell, I really enjoyed this book. There were just enough futuristic elements to allow me to suspend disbelief and immerse myself in the story. What a creepy story she’s chosen to tell, too- three teenaged girls kidnapped and forced to marry a total stranger with no hope of escape. From that point on, their role is as brood mares primarily, and research subjects when they eventually pass on.
DeStefano doesn’t shy away from the gruesome implications of the virus that the characters are living with, or the sexuality implicit in a polygamous marriage. Throw in the isolated creepy mansion setting, and you’ve got a futuristic gothic tale with some hints of Margaret Atwood. Rhine is fiercely loyal to her brother, and spends most of the book plotting how to return to him, though she occasionally realizes that it might not be so bad to live out the rest of her limited life in comfort. Seeing her relationship with her sister wives develop is touching, though there’s always an uneasy feeling of “trust no one.” (Maybe that’s a result of watching too much X-Files lately too, who knows?)
Either way, I will definitely be reading the next installment.
Four out of Five June Beans.