Saturday, 13 July 2013

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

The Chemical Garden Reviews
Wither, Fever, and Sever

Published: March 22 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Website: Author's Website
Author's Youtube

            The First Generation was genetically modified to improve the human condition. The unexpected consequence lurked in their children; the children have a “virus” that terminates males at 25-years-old and females at 20-years-old. From perfection came disaster. With the population in decline, scientists are scrambling for a cure. Girls are being snatched off the streets by wealthy families to procreate and extend the family lineage. Rhine, a girl with heterochromia eyes, has been stolen from her life to be a sister wife to Linden. The mansion is a gilded cage, and with only four years left to her life, she plans on escaping the sinister family.

            I usually hate it when covers use faces. It stops the reader from imagining the appearance of a character. It is also worse when the cover looks nothing like how the author describes their character.
            In this case, I love the image. It has beautiful symbolism: the ring, the cage, the decadence. I hate the hair and the dress because #1 both are high-fashion messy and #2 nowhere in the book is Rhine in such a dress and has teased hair that looks a few strokes from a rat’s nest.
            With this explanation, I say that I love the image, but not as a cover. It’d be passable if the image was cut off at her neck to exclude her face and hair. In fact, it would add to the symbolism presented in the story about women being degraded.

            When I began reading, Wither immediately struck me as a stripped-down version of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for teens. Not that it is bad or unoriginal. I recommend all older teens to read The Handmaid’s Tale and Wither (if the concept of forced procreation is something they can handle).
            This novel is an excellent “what if” scenario in regards to the possibility of population decline and women becoming “baby factories” to maintain the human race and to find a cure. There are other dystopian elements as well: a large social divide, generational divides, gender oppression, and mass poverty and the associated lack of security and chaos. Unfortunately, the world of the story is very confined; she is trapped in the mansion and only recalls what the real world is like. I suspect we will see more of it in the next two books.

            I tried to like Rhine. She is like how most girls would picture themselves in her situation: rebellious. The heterochromia eyes and her name are interesting facts, but the book fails to make Rhine unique. She assesses situations and chooses her words wisely, but she does less of this as the story progresses. She becomes less hard, and I do not feel like the author meant for this to happen, just that the writing took the author there and she forgot that Rhine is supposed to be much more capable than she is at the end.

Supporting Characters
            The cast of characters for this novel is exceptional. There are the obviously evil characters, the not-so-evil, the victims, the willing, the unwilling, the blind. The main characters evolve as the story progresses and I am thoroughly impressed by the ensemble and their interactions with one another.
            As I tried to like Rhine, I fell in love with Jenna. She has a tragic backstory, and I understand her acknowledgement of the situation. She decides what to do, she makes the best of the circumstances, and she is humorous at times. Downside: her name is Jenna.
            At first I hated Linden. He’s complacent, weak, and oblivious to the suffering he is causing to his sister wives. As the novel progresses, I became more sympathetic to the character. Making me sympathetic to a character I once despised is not an easy feat, and it is a testament to the writing.
            Cecily, the youngest sister wife, brings life into the house in more ways than one. She is a willing wife, though she is an orphan and the mansion offers joys she could never imagine. Cecily is a fine example of how distorted the world has become: a willing captive, an eager mother, ignorant of freedom or the way the world was before the dystopia set in. Without spoiling anything, it is through her that the reader finds out about the babies sister wives bear in this world, and how cruel the process is.

            Luckily, I was intrigued by the overall concept and I didn’t just read the first few pages, because I probably would have walked away. I found the beginning to be overly written. I understand that Rhine has just been ripped from her world, shoved into a van, and brought to the mansion. Her mind is scattered, but I think the author couldn’t decide where to go either. She brings up too much in the beginning without dealing with the issues at hand. And she dwells and details too much when reminiscing about the setting-social values and her past and the history of the world-at inappropriate times.
            As mentioned, the characters are excellent. Each serves a purpose and the main ones evolve. You’ll hate certain characters at the beginning and by the end, you’ll change your mind.
            Other than the characters, the writing is nothing special. No particular voice or prose was burned into my mind, but it serves its purpose.

            A fulfilling dystopian teen novel with a little romance (of course). I suggest this to slightly older/mature teens because of the sexual content (we are talking about making babies against your will). If the teen likes dystopia or other kinds of speculative (non-paranormal) fiction, I recommend it highly. The characters are vivid and dynamic, but it is the setting of the world and how it came to be that makes the novel truly special.

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