Wither by Lauren DeStefano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
SERIES: Chemical Garden - Book 1
GENRE: Young Adult – Science Fictio
SYNOPSIS: In a world where women only live to be 20 and men to 25, due to a virus that has come about because of genetic engineering, life has become extra special, as well as precarious. Rhine has spent the last few years living alone with her twin brother Rowen, and avoiding the men in the gray jackets – the Gatherers - who kidnap teenage girls from their off the streets, from their homes, out of their beds; but to no avail, as she has found herself first in the back of a truck with many other girls, and then as one of three new brides to a rich family in Florida, far from her own Manhattan home. Determined to run away and find her way back to her brother, Rhine does not count on the fact that she may actually find herself caring for some of the people she meets while imprisoned, but that is exactly what happens. First, the servant Gabriel, then her bride sisters, but then even Linden, the husband himself, isn’t so bad.
REVIEW: Lauren DeStefano is an excellent writer, she paints a beautiful picture, even if that picture is a sad one. She has created a future world that seems completely realistic, and a concept that is absolutely believable. One of the more interesting parts of this book was how people have adapted to the new way of life. For example, in this world polygamy is accepted, and encouraged, mostly because the world needs people, so babies in mass quantity are the goal. There also is a perspective on what is considered normal living. Jenna was surprised to find out that Rhine had not been a prostitute, but even more so that she was a virgin. Cecily was surprised to find that Rhine hadn't previously lived in an orphanage. Both of these are the “norm” for children and especially young girls. While none of the circumstances mentioned are ideal or even easy, Jenna and Rhine are very unhappy with their new life and Cecily is overjoyed. She feels that has been dealt the ultimate hand, and she wants to make the absolute best of it. This seems entirely logical too; coming from an orphanage waiting on her “sentence” to be complete at 20, instead she gets to live in luxury in a mansion with servants, a handsome husband, and a doctor father-in-law who is trying to heal her of her ailment. For her, being kidnapped is the ideal situation.
Unlike the growing trend among YA books which have been driven by very socialistic or even dictatorship type governments, and then rebellion; Wither was not political at all, but still had that future world feel about it. I like the consequences for our actions theme (not “like” as in I want it to happen, sort of way..that would be crazy…) For the most part, I liked the book.
Wither was filled with so much pain, that there were moments when I really just didn’t want to read on anymore. Every single character is in pain, whether it shown or not. Rhine, because the very thing her and her brother spent so much time and effort protecting against has happened, and she willingly walked right into the trap. Jenna has lost her family and while she puts on a “I just don’t care anymore” façade, she does care. Cecily’s pain comes later, and I think we’ll see more of it in the future, but she’s a new mom who’s child is being torn from her. Linden has lost his first love, and knows deep down he’s losing another. I also think he’s not quite as oblivious to what his father has been doing has he seems to be, but he is choosing not to pay attention to it. Even Housemaster Vaughn is in pain. He's fighting tooth and nail for an antidote to the virus before he loses everything he has, his son, Linden, and there is nothing he won’t do to get what he wants. While Housemaster Vaughn is creepy, and a bit evil and overbearing, there are ways that I do know what he is about, and feel sorry for him too. There is a bit of urgency to his purpose, and he is not letting anything get in his way. The one and only person I cannot identify an emotional pain for is Gabriel, he seems to have accepted the hand he has been dealt, and while he thinks about the outside world and is fascinated by it, he really doesn't seem to care one way or another about experiencing it. Had Rhine not shown up, he would have been happy enough just to work at the house forever and died. Maybe I don’t see his pain because I am not really emotionally attached to Gabriel as a character. He and Rhine connected some, but I didn't feel the spark between them like I think I was meant to.
WHAT I LOVED: The perfect blend of future and present. Lauren even had the characters pretending to be in the 21st Century, but has brought so many things that we love in today’s world forward, holograms replacing video games, everything is virtual or high-tech. Completely believable. But what I loved more was how Rhine was constantly “calling a spade a spade” and wishing for the real thing over the virtual.
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE: The relationship between Rhine and Gabriel and Linden. I wanted different decisions to be made. I cannot elaborate much more without spoiling it…
SONG DEDICATION: For Rhine: “Stockholm Syndrome,” Muse
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