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Wither by Lauren DeStefano – review
First I want to mention how striking this cover is. It’s not usually the kind of cover I like, but it fits. It has symbolism. Wither is the first in the Chemical Garden trilogy, which is about normal for young adult novels these days. Especially young adult novels in the dystopian genre.
In the future humans are a ticking time bomb of death. Males live to 25 and females to 20, so society does what society is really good at–they figure out a way oppress females! Poor unfortunate souls get kidnapped, sold and forced into polygamous marriages to males so that the men can breed as many kids as possible. Well, the rich men get that treatment, at least.
Before I go further, I want to point out that though parts of this review may sound harsh, it’s not that I disliked or didn’t enjoy the novel. I just feel kind of overloaded on bleak, desperate dystopians where the government (or society, and sometimes they are the same) controls everything. Just off the top of my head I can name three other recently released or soon to be released books of a similar concept: Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Matched by Ally Condie, and Bumped by Megan McCafferty. That’s a whole lot of depression to be reading in a six month period.
Rhine, our main character, introduces us to the world and what’s happening. And she’s not a bad sort to have as a narrator. She doesn’t often dwell on the bleakness of her situation, she focuses on what it means to survive. She keeps hoping for a cure to the genetic problems plaguing mankind. In short she’s fair-minded and even-handed. Too often dystopians seem to have a focal character who is too far left or right.
DeStefano’s writing is lush and provocative; she offers an unbiased viewpoint in regards to what happens. Rhine as a narrator doesn’t judge or endorse the practice of kidnapping girls for the polygamous marriages. There is an obvious need, and her husband Linden isn’t a bad person–he’s not cruel or abusive, at least. And the trade-0ff isn’t half bad at first. All the food she can eat, pretty clothing and jewels, party after party…it’s a dream come true.
But…well, if Rhine had remained happy in life, we wouldn’t have much of a plot right? I will say I was happy to see that even though there is a “love” story outside of her marriage, it’s not the impetus of the novel. At least it didn’t feel as if it was to me. Rhine’s relationship with her sister-wives (oh, hey, yes, polygamy, I know I mentioned that) fuel her character more. Rhine wants to protect both Cecily (the younger one at 13) and Jenna (older at 19).
In the end the fact that DeStefano doesn’t dwell on a love triangle, or make Linden out to be a creep and villain, made this book worth more to me. I want to find out what happens next and follow the tension. This book doesn’t promise happy endings sunshine perfectness–I sincerely hope the series remains true to that.
Editor’s note: This book is due to be released March 22, 2011.