Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Lauren DeStefano’s latest young adult dystopian novel due out in March of 2011 is testament to a world gone wrong -science has wreaked havoc on the genetic code, war has broken out and decimated much of the known world, the polar ice caps have melted, and the center of the known world is now the United States…or at least what is left of it.
Now men only live until 25 and women to age 20. In order to perpetuate the species until a cure can be found, a sinister practice has surfaced. Girls are being kidnapped by Gatherers and delivered to either brothels or rich families and bonded into marriage with their prospective husbands and sister wives. The aging First Generation is hopelessly trying for a cure, but with the growing divide between pro-naturalists and the scientists, a cure is too far out of hand.
At first glance, I wondered is DeStefano’s world enough to draw in readers? Wither’s theme is off-putting…where girls…some very young, are thrust into the role of wife and mother, clinging to each other for support and guidance. It is a theme all too common in this day and age-and at every remote corner of the globe, and Wither brings it home to readers-riding a fine line between adult and YA fiction.
DeStefano plays this hand heavily in her characters: Rhine Ellery the lead in Wither whose unusual genetic makeup and beauty has targeted her for a House Governor’s mansion after being stolen away from her home and her brother Rowan. There is Cecily who grew up in a government orphanage desperate to escape-even if her route is as a child bride, and Jenna who has done whatever she could to escape the mean streets to survive. Each has a different background but a similar fate…
Much in the same vein as The Handmaid’s Tale, Wither delivers a similar theme, but there is too little to draw in readers, sparse relief, and hope seems in short supply. The draw between Rhine and Gabriel, her attendant provides a brief respite, and sometimes the uneasy truce between Linden (Rhine’s new husband). But overall, DeStefano seems uncertain on how to weave the uneasiness between Rhine and Linden. Does she fall for him, her captor? Does she hate him even though he does not know the truth about her abduction? Why doesn’t Rhine tell him the truth? About the true reality of “outside” and how she, Cecily and Jenna were abducted for his benefits? Everywhere is the spectre of Vaughn, Linden’s frightening father who controls every aspect of the estate and those who are held prisoner there.
Wither is darkly haunting, uncomfortable, and well written. And DeStefano’s story world-building is superficial, not fully explained. But it is not the theme that turned me from DeStefano’s story. True, it is a troubling subject, but the vital component missing was hope. That necessary ingredient has to be present to save the reader from its depressing theme. Without this relief, Wither can be a dark, brooding morass emanating a poignant feeling of being trapped in a gilded cage.
A Fiendishly Bookish Review (and one grumpy cat)