Jan 11, 2011

Review - Wither by Lauren DeStafano

Wither by Lauren DeStafano
March 22nd 2011 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

From the Publisher:
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.

Rhine, and every other girl on Earth, is only destined to live until the age of 20. The boys don't have much more luck only making it until 25. The world is in turmoil and girls are being kidnapped to breed at a young age to keep the population up. Rhine and her brother have been living a confined life in the basement of their home. They keep to themselves and do everything they can to stay safe, stay together. While Rhine goes looking for work, she is kidnapped and becomes an unwilling bride along with two other girls, Cicily and Jenna. Cicily was an orphan and is happy to finally have a home. She understands her fate and her chances of being happy. Fifteen-year-old Cicily thinks being married is about as good as it can get for her. Eithteen-year-old Jenna isn't thrilled with the thought of being married, but it's better than being dead. Rhine, on the other hand, is not accepting her fate in any way. From the moment she is taken by the Gatherers, she makes plans for an escape. Escaping won't be easy considering that Vaugh, her father in-law, and Linden, her new husband, keep the teen brides locked on a floor in a mansion. Although they have everything they desire - food, clothes, books, games - Rhine is never content with her current living situation. No matter what they feed her or promise her, she is a prisoner. Over time, she develops friendships with the other two wives and begins to learn that her new husband, Linden, may not exactly be the terrible monster she once thought he was. Although Rhine knew that her father in-law was more than just controlling, she begins to feel that he is a dangerous man to defy and disobey. Her escape may also lead to her death. 

Although I love a good science fiction novel, I feel like this book is only fits half the bill. Yes, the world is in ruins and there are amazing advances in medicine, but once we are behind the closed doors of the mansion, we almost forget about it. The reader becomes consumed with Rhine and the her two sister-wives being held captive that we forget about the science fiction part of this story. There are a few aspects (holographic games, medicine, and the flashbacks of Rhine with her family) that bring science fiction elements into play, but that's it. The girls play miniature golf, jump on a trampoline, and ride in limo's like we do in 2011. The elements that would make this a solid work of science-fiction are simply not there.  

There were a few inconsistencies in the story. For example, the setting is Florida, "the bottom of the East Coast", and yet it gets incredibly cold and snows there on more than one occasion. If the weather changed as part of the Earth changing, we are never told. The language was inconsistent as well. Cicily is described as "... her belly begins to swell" and then we hear Jenna and another woman say "knocked-up". The story flip-flopps from a normal teenagers thoughts and dialogue to a more formal tone. I would have like to have seen one or the other. 

There are several things I did like about Wither. I liked the diversity of the sister-wives. Each one had their own voice and even secrets to hide. I kinda, almost, maybe liked the character of Linden. In the beginning, I didn't give him enough credit. I lumped Linden and his father in one big category of evil, but we soon learn that there is more to him. Linden is more than one-dimensional and, at times, I have a soft spot for him. Not sure why Rhine didn't cater to Linden's soft-side and simply ask to be reunited with her brother. I think the writer wanted us to fall in love with Linden. I don't want to spoil things, but he never "takes advantage" of Rhine. This lack of contact was another giant, gaping hole in the story for me. Nine months married (to a kidnapped girl, I might add) and he never forced himself with anyone. Hmmmm, just a little too safe for me.

I was happy to read that Rhine's real love interest doesn't enter on page one and it was not love at first site. Maybe, interesting at first sight is more fitting. I think (hope) that YA writers are catching on that teens are a little more one-sided than we give them credit for. Yes, they are passionate. Yes, they are impulsive, but not all of them fall in love with the first person they find attractive. This story is a fast read. I was very curious to see just how long Rhine could live in that mansion. The ending wraps up in a nice little bow (I would have liked more tension) and this book could easily be a stand alone novel. I have no clue where the subtitle, The Chemical Garden, fits into the story. I also have no clue where book two could go. 

3 stars