Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Lauren DeStefano's website here // $11.02 from {amazon}
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (March 22, 2011)
Hardcover: 368 pages
Summary: from {goodreads}
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 limted time she has left.
Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts:
Wither is a captivating tale that finds beauty in loss and hope in despair. Despite my few misgivings, its unique plot and fluid prose guarantees Wither a top spot on my dystopian shelf for this year.

What ranks Wither so highly is Lauren DeStefano’s writing, which somehow manages to be extremely lyrical yet simplistic. I loved her poetic descriptions, small details that quietly held up Wither’s characters, setting, and the twisted world in general. Taking a scene between Rhine and a shall-not-be-named someone:
"He weaves his fingers through mine, and I allow it, feel the clammy warmth of his palm against mine. Flush. Alive. Eventually I realize that I am holding on to him just as tightly as he holds on to me. And here we are: two small dying things, as the world ends around us like falling autumn leaves."
-pg. 147 (ARC)
Yes, Wither may be depressing at times, but it balances the hopelessness with small, scattered rays of light – particularly Cecily, Jenna, and Rhine, the three wife-sisters’ relationship. DeStefano develops an amazingly genuine, close-knit sisterhood by merging three distinctive personalities and differing views on life; Cecily is the forever-optimist who embraces her new life, Jenna is the polar opposite, and Rhine is somewhere caught in the middle. I could relate to each one of them to varying extents, which is especially impressive considering that they’re trapped not only in marriage, but in an unfathomable polygamous one.

Another abnormality, the twenty or twenty-five year lifespan in Wither brings up intriguing ethical questions, though I would have liked to see this concept of what humans would do with an extremely limited amount of time. Maybe I have a pessimistic view of humanity, but I definitely expected more aggression and partying and less of the refined detachment.

Rhine’s character triggered some questions as well, my main question being: where does Rhine find her strength and motivation? Her motivation seems to stem from romantic love and desire for freedom, both of which I found to be too unsubstantiated. And as much as I respect Rhine’s persistence and perseverance, a number of her actions I found more impulsive and self-indulgent rather than brave, a likely result from my skepticism. I also never fully believed in the “evil” of the villain, who was disquieting with his refinement and role in one disturbing scene, but whose persona seemed to be more speculation and abstract threats than proof. Overall, the characters were reasonably well-developed and enjoyable, though many could have benefited from a little additional molding.

Romance: There are some kissing and vague mentions of sex, but nothing explicit. For those of you that have read Wither already: I wave the Team Linden flag. <3
Cover: 5.0 -- I LOVE this cover. The colors are gorgeous (dark and very dystopian-y), the picture is accurate, and I can tell how all the little details tie into the story. Am I the only one who'd like to see that dress in person? ;)

Bottom Line: In Wither, we’re given a tantalizing peek into a world of glittering falsehoods and stimulating paradoxes, complete with tentative romance and a sketchy villain. I recommend dystopian readers try this solid debut, though Wither has many aspects that I feel are either very subjective or very controversial, which can be seen a wide variety of ways. Personally, I'm not very enthusiastic about where and whom Wither ended with, so I may or may not continue The Chemical Garden trilogy, depending on where the series goes. However, I will definitely be looking out for more of Lauren DeStefano’s beautiful prose in the future, and the creativity involved in Wither is a mark of her potential to be a stand-out author.

**Thank you to Simon& Schuster for the ARC.

Also read as part of Dystopian February at Presenting Lenore.