Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
YA / Dystopian
I fear that the review that follows has been written by a distracted blogger. Despite having the entire day off, I’ve spent it doing non-blog related things and time has flown by much faster than I’d expected. So let’s start off with the quick and easy review of Lauren DeStefano’s Wither: It was pretty awesome and I felt completely satisfied with its ending.
Wither isn’t exactly your standard post-apocalypse or dystopia novel. It’s mostly contained within the walls of a single location. There’s no real fighting for physical survival, but rather a more mental fight for personal freedom. This is a world where females die at 20 years old from an unknown and unsolvable disease and male die at 25. The last remaining “natural” generation is hitting their golden ages and people fear for the continuation of the human species as well as worry about who will care for all these orphaned children. Naturally the world has fallen apart, split between those who want a cure and those who feel that science is what caused this mess in the first place, so we might as well suffer the consequences. But these are all secondary things happening in the background.
This is a story about Rhine, a 16-year-old girl who grew up in Manhattan with “natural” parents until they were killed by a terrorist explosion on their laboratory. She has a twin brother, Rowan, though he never appears except in her memory. As the story begins Rhine has been snatched up and sold to a wealthy doctor in Florida to be a wife for his 20-year-old son, along with two other girls. The son, Linden, is a naive young architect, who is watching his true love die from the inevitable sickness that comes at the age of 20.
Rhine is an amazing character – strong in her own way, determined, passionate and yet soft and empathetic. While there were some choices that she made with what I thought was questionable motivation, I could still see why she chose to act the way she did. I can understand the Stockholm syndrome that made her begin feeling for Linden. He was kind, generous and, above all, completely oblivious. It’s hard to hate someone that is as dumb as he is to the ways of the world and I think Rhine’s empathy was the only thing standing between him and a punch of reality to the face. Though he is older than Rhine by a few years, he always seemed to be much younger, the product of such a sheltered lifestyle.
DeStefano has a wonderful way with language. I wish I still had the book on hand so I could quote passages, particularly from the beginning when both Rhine and the reader are disoriented and confused by what’s happening. Even in first person narration, DeStefano is able to create not only a three dimensional world, but multiple fully developed characters. While Housemaster Vaughn is mostly a token bad guy, the author’s description of him oozes slime and menace. Even the bratty youngest bride, Cecily, has redeeming qualities and the reader feels for her when her plans backfire.
And then there’s Gabriel. In retrospect, he’s not in the book that much, but in his short time, he made an incredible impression on me. As a servant in the household, he bonds with Rhine and a quick affection develops. It wasn’t the sort of insta-love that annoys me in so many other YA titles, but the sort of affection that develops between two people in a similar situation who can bond over shared dreams and fears. We don’t know a lot about Gabriel, but he was always there when Rhine needed him most. That dependability might have made me swoon a time or two, but you can’t prove anything.
The most pleasant surprise with Wither, though, was the ending. I went in knowing this was the beginning of a trilogy, but finished the book feeling like I had read a complete and finished story. Obviously there’s potential for additional adventures, but I felt strings were all tied together nicely and would be content with it being a standalone. That isn’t to say that I won’t be reading Fever when it comes out next year. If there’s more Gabriel, I’m there and I’d like to meet Rowan at some point down the road. All Wither was truly missing to be a finished story would be that happy reunion.
I honestly can’t find a complaint with this book, which is the first time in a very long time. It was unusual and unlike anything I’ve read before. Characters were fully developed and relatable even when in an unusual situation. Pacing was fantastic, ebbing and flowing like a good story should. I felt fear, excitement, anxiety and happiness for the characters in turn. I have a crush on one of the guys. I finished my nightly chores early just so I could go to bed early to read. I mean, there’s really no bad in this.
I just hope that the follow up manages the same quality of writing and story that Wither showed. If DeStefano can keep this up through an entire trilogy, she just might become my new favorite YA author.
Well-developed characters with unique and interesting storylines; perfect plotting that never lags; normally don’t pick sides, but definitely on Team!Gabriel