Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wither by 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 Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Reviewed by: Baby Sister Brittany
Release Date: March 22nd (Head to your bookstore now!)
The Sisters Say: Sinister. Unsettling. Striking.

I was, quite simply, astounded by this book. The world of the story was so unique, so vivid, and so dark that even though I finished the book in one sitting, I needed several days to let it all sink in.

First, there was the world building. As someone in my early twenties—imagining a world where every female died at twenty, and every male at twenty-five was distressing to say the least. I thought about my life— the ways in which I am really just getting started and the fact that I don’t think I really knew who I was until I was around twenty—and that alone left me restless and unsettled. The rest of the world fell into place easily—a world full of orphans because of the short life expectancy, the frantic need to reproduce to keep our society alive, and the desperation for a cure that is so strong that it breaks down moral boundaries. This world was so richly and thoroughly imagined, that I truly felt as if I were caught up in it. There was no sense of separation from the characters or the world, I became so immersed in it, that I (along with the characters) was struggling to find right and wrong and fair and justified—and all before time ran out. The most terrifying part of this world? Unlike many dystopian books—this feels like something that could actually happen. I dare you to read the first page, and not be hooked!

Which brings me to my next point—emotionally, I felt so connected to this book. I struggle to express why, because the main character is surprisingly in control of her emotions (even though she’s been kidnapped and forced into a polygamist marriage). But somehow, it just worked. So many awful things happen to Rhine. Unimaginable things. But she remains strong, focused, and hopeful. Her refusal to dwell on her emotions, doesn’t eliminate the emotions completely, rather it allows the reader to feel them in her stead, and it makes her character all the more remarkable, because I felt what she must have been feeling, and it made her strength all the more inspiring. She was as hardcore a heroine as they come!

And finally, the part that I loved most about the book is that there were no clear-cut, easy answers. In this world of desperation and fear, there is no black and white. Everything becomes relative. Right and wrong aren’t as easy to identify. And “for the greater good” seems to require a whole lot more bad to succeed than good. But… that’s what I loved! Wither will make you think. As much as you love Rhine and you identify with her troubles, you’ll also come to understand the people who have ruined her life. I started out hating Cecilia (one of Rhine’s sister wives), but as the story continued and her motivations were revealed, I felt intensely guilty for my judgment. No character is completely good or completely evil. Not even the “bad guy” in the story who is Rhine’s Father-in-Law. Not even Rhine, our heroine, “the good girl.”  DeStefano forces you to ask, “How far would I go to save someone I love? What lines would I cross just to have a little more time? How many would I hurt if it meant saving millions more?"

The success of this book lies in its layers. For those of you who aren’t really looking for a make-you-sit-down-and-think kind of book, don’t be scared away by my review! On the surface, this book is action-packed, an intense read, with an infectious romance (or two)! It is a fantastic read! And you can just leave it at that. But if you allow it, the characters will creep under your skin, and you’ll become so turned around as to who is good and bad and right and wrong. It becomes difficult as a reader to decide what you want. In a world ruled by “Team Edward” and “Team Peeta” and “Team Every Romantic Possibility Under the Sun,” it was refreshing to be as unsure of my opinion as the characters often are. I, for one, look forward to being able to just go along for the ride instead of worrying about whether Rhine will end up with “my favorite.” Rhine faces a terrifying world full of terrible choices, and I don’t envy her in the slightest. But I do look forward to seeing her continue to tackle her troubles with courage and grace in the next book.

Don’t wait to devour this book! Go get it now!