Lauren DeStefano, Simon & Shuster, 2011.
Wither takes place in a dystopian future where 70 years ago, science was able to cure all diseases and make genetically perfect children. However, the after effects of this have been devastating, all the girls die at age 20 and the boys at age 25. This leaves a world of first generations, who are getting elderly, and a population of young people and children. There is no in between. In the wake of this tragedy is devastation: much of the world is in chaos, many children are orphans, there is huge poverty and chemicals have ruined much of the environment. Teenage girls become a commodity in this world, being stolen or sold into polygamous marriages against their wills.
Rhine, aged 16, has been kidnapped, stolen away from her twin brother Rowan, and sold with 2 other girls to be the wives of a wealthy man named Linden. Her goal is to escape and get back to her brother, to regain her freedom, but Linden's controlling father makes this extremely dangerous, if not impossible.
It is difficult and a little intimidating to review a book that you've heard a lot about, especially a lot of good things. I did enjoy reading this book, but not as much as many of the other reviewers. The book was largely in Rhine's head, with her thinking of escape plans, figuring out the world she now found herself in, and coming to terms with her feelings. Because she has to be so secretive, she does not talk to many people. It was interesting to watch Rhine grow and gain understanding and even wavering, while remaining single minded in her bid for freedom. Lauren DeStefano also wrote some beautiful, vivid descriptions of the world, some horrifying in their scope.
For me, however, Wither got a little repetitive. There were some thoughts and ideas that were stated over and over, for example, that Rhine's different eyes had saved her life. There were similar things with her thoughts of her brother and her past life, as well as Rhine's feelings about her current life. It made it feel as if the story were not progressing very fast at times.
I also wanted to know more about the world and how it had decayed to the state it was in- a lot was supplied was implied - and found I had a lot of questions . How did the gatherers (those who stole the girls) become OK, was there no higher authority? Why, if girls were so important for reproduction, hadn't they become a valuable commodity who were paid for handsomely and honoured rather than being cheap and disposable? Wouldn't teenagers become valuable as caregivers for babies who had been orphaned? How did the economy run at all?
What was interesting in Wither is the number of questions it brings up and I can envision some great book club meetings or essays being written on these topics. The big one is freedom vs slavery, especially a hard free live vs luxurious slavery: Rhine's life before she was kidnapped was brutally hard and dangerous, with the threat of kidnapping, people breaking into her house, unemployment, poor quality food, desperate orphans stealing food, but she was free. After she was kidnapped, Rhine had a life of luxury with servants, beautiful clothes, excellent food, and going to parties, but she was not free. A vivid dichotomy was set up here. Another question is should humans interfere anymore genetically or let the human race die out? This gets into more questions about bio-engineering, in general. There is also polygamous marriage and duty and even arranged marriage. I'm sure there are other themes as well, but these are the obvious ones.
Overall, I did like Wither, but found it frustrating at the same time. It will be interesting to see where Lauren DeStefano takes this story in the next book.
Here is the book trailer from You Tube: