Friday, May 6, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano — 256 pgs

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy)It’s a world much like our own, but here in this world of unimaginable bleakness, young men and women meet their deaths much too soon. For the women of this world, the age of expiration is twenty, while the males only garner four years more. Humankind has eradicated all the most deadly diseases, and the first generation lives on and on in uninterrupted health. But when they discover that their children are dying of a dreaded virus just after entering adulthood, the world takes on a sinister and horrific cast. Living in this desolate place is Rhine, a sixteen year old girl who, with her twin brother, is living a hand-to-mouth life after their parents, who were first generations, die unexpectedly. Rhine has heard the story of the Gatherers, men who steal young women and turn them over to wealthy families to be breeding machines until their early deaths. Though she has taken precautions to avoid being snatched, one day she’s tricked into a van and taken away.

When Rhine awakens in an opulent mansion, all she can think about is how she will escape, but that seems unlikely as she doesn’t even know where she is. Along with Rhine in the van were several other girls, but only two others survived to be brought to this gilded prison. Now Rhine, Jenna and Cecily are forced into a marriage with Linden, the man who owns the mansion. Destined to be sister wives until they succumb to the virus themselves, the three girls deal with their captivity in very different ways. But it’s Rhine who is constantly thinking of escape. Though Rhine finds a measure of pleasure in her captivity, and even finds a friend in the young house servant named Gabriel, she never stops plotting an escape from Linden and his prison-like estate. But will Rhine ever manage to be free again, and if so, will she ever make her way to her twin brother? Adding to Rhine’s resolution to escape are her puzzling feelings about the man who is her captor and the new-found thrill of being close to Gabriel. In this debut novel, Lauren DeStefano posits a world very much like our own but fundamentally and bleakly different.

I had been reading a lot about this book all over the blogosphere and was really excited that I had a copy waiting on my shelves for me to delve into. A lot of what I had heard made me excited because, though I’ve read many reviews of YA dystopian novels, I haven’t actually read very many at all. I figured this book would give me a great chance to see if this genre would work for me, and since it had been getting such rave reviews, I was eager to see if it would live up to the hype. What I found was curious, and though I do think the book fit my tastes very well, I almost wish I had avoided all the hype, because no matter which book is being hyped, I generally end up feeling disappointed.

The writing style struck me as a bit subdued and quiet, which had the effect of making the narrative feel dreamlike at times. In scope and execution, Wither was both deft and satisfying, but certain sections felt slow. It took some time for the action to ramp up, but even then, the story was almost placid and calm. I found the plight of the sister wives, prisoners of a strange childlike man, to be thought-provoking and remarkably detailed. Each girl had her own ideas about her marriage to Linden, and in their inward reflections, I could see variations that were true to what would have been their real-life counterparts. Though only one of the wives felt that it was a privilege to be married to Linden, they were all curiously accepting in certain ways, and they all found outlets that made life for them more bearable.

Though parts of this book were ominous, it wasn’t as horrifying as I might have imagined. The scene setting and narrative were creepy and malevolent, but at times I felt that the book missed its mark with the haunting atmosphere it was trying to present. This may be a personal problem though, because I’m not yet accustomed to the subtle nuances of this particular genre, but I also feel that this in part has to do with all the hype that surrounded this read. While I was reading, I was asking myself a lot of questions about both the realities and plausibility of dying just when you were starting to live, and found myself pondering the injustice of life being cut short in such a horrible and insensible way. I actually reflected a lot over this book, which indicates that DeStefano not only hit her mark in terms of worldbuilding and characters, but also that this is the type of book that has stronger implications than what the surface reveals to its readers.

I found the lifestyles and realities of the everyday lives of the sister wives to be the the most intriguing aspects of the book. There were also subtle mysteries and malignancies that ran through the plot that enticed me as well. Though not all of my questions were answered, I’m aware that this is only the first book in a series and I hope to uncover more as the series progresses. I also liked that the narrative was so descriptive and lush. There was a lot of thought and effort given over to the physical description of almost every aspect of the plot, which was something that I found very satisfying. In terms of scene setting and descriptive power alone, I would rate this book very highly, and I feel that this exemplary component of the book made the story seem to jump off the page.

Though I didn’t fall into the same kind of love for this book that others did, I still found it to be a very successful read and enjoyed the time I spent with it. I’m definitely interested in reading the subsequent books and finding out more about this world and these characters, and I would recommend this read to any who are curious about it. It didn’t disappoint, and I’m sure others will enjoy this foray into the world and life of a very determined heroine who just wants to get home.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

27 comments:

Audra said...

Lovely, thoughtful review -- I've been super curious about this book but not feeling YA recently and your observations about it make me think I'll put it on the back burner for the moment -- I think, like you, I'll be disappointed no matter what. YA novels esp, I find, I need to know nothing to really enjoy them.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've been curious about this one as well. It is normally not the style of book that I would be drawn to, but if you think it is worthy of following the series, then maybe there is something to it!

Darlene said...

Great review Heather. I`ve got this one on my shelf and I`m looking forward to it.

Jenny said...

Books that make you think and reflect are some of my favorites. I wasn't sure about this one but I'm thinking I need to read it. I do have a copy, LOL!

Suko said...

Excellent, thoughtful review, Zibilee. The premise of the book sounds sad and ominous and yet fascinating (and I wonder if the author has a larger message about maturity or something else)? You've whetted my interest in this book, although you were not quite as smitten by it as others were.

bermudaonion said...

I've read all those raving reviews too, so I'm glad to read your review. I've lowered my expectations some and suspect I'd feel much the same as you.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

This is a great review. I've seen quite a few veiws of this, lately, and most of them hardly interest me. I think your take on it has me more interested in most. For some reason I thought it was about something much different.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I'm interested to read this one. I bought the book the same time I bought Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver so I didn't want to lump two YA books together around the same time. I'm still planning to read, but I won't expect it to be earth shattering...!

Trisha said...

The cover alone caught my attention and had me adding it to the wish list. :)

Meghan said...

I have been so overwhelmed with all the love for this book that I've definitely found it hard to separate out what I might feel about it - I've been putting it off although I know I want to read it eventually. Your review has made me think about it differently and tempered the universal love feeling even though you did enjoy it. Thanks!

Beth F said...

I have this one and have put off reading it (like others have said) because of all the rave reviews. I feel I would be setting myself up disappointment. Now, though I think I should give it a try.

TheBookGirl said...

Great, insightful review...Dystopia is a genre that I don't read; it's too bleak for me. It seems as though your recent reads in out of the box genres for you have been working out really well :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I agree that the author must have been successful if the book kept you thinking about the themes (even if it seemed "off" while you were reading it).

I'm not much for dystopia, though, so I'm not sure I'll read this one -- my older daughter would be all over it, based on your thoughtful review!

Marg said...

Whilst I have heard lots about this book it hasn't really been one that grabbed my attention and called out read me!

Good review!

Willa said...

Fantastic review. I am putting this one on my TBR this instant, it sounds like a good read.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I've heard so many good things about this, and the premise is really interesting. I can't help but wonder, though, how it's going to end.

By the way, have you read The Hunger Games? The three books in the series are the only dystopian novels I've read, but I absolutely loved them. :)

Jenners said...

I am always struggling with YA dystopia. Too often I find the premises so appealing and weird but then feel disappointed by how the story plays put or how it is written. Sometimes I wonder if it because it is YA books or just a problem with dystopias. Either way, I keep getting sucked into these types of books and them feeling disappointed.

Amy said...

Your the second person I've seen say the pacing was a bit slow in parts and I didn't have that issue at all. I enjoyed this read a lot, but it did have its problems.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Ah, there´s where you get into trouble: asking questions about plausibility! LOL

Nymeth said...

I love a good dystopia, so I'm quite curious about this one. Also, I love your blog's new look! It's probably not new by now, but as I've been away for so long I hadn't seen it yet. It's so good to be reading all my favourite blogs again!

Amy said...

I'm really curious about this book but also kind of disturbed, I have to admit. Not sure if I'll give it a chance or not.

Michelle (my books. my life.) said...

I also fell into the didn't-love-but-very-much-enjoyed category. Lovely review, Heather.

Vasilly said...

I think this is a wonderful review. I can't wait to read your thought on the next book in the series when it's published.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Heather, Thanks so much for the sweet comment on my Mother's Day post. I appreciate it. Hoping your day was special as well.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I really am hoping to read this soon... I have read some intersting thoughts on this one.

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

I agree it was good but not the greatest with pace.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

I have also seen mostly raving reviews, so I find yours a bit different in the most interesting way. I think it will help me somewhat lower my expectations of it, but I'm still looking forward to reading it.

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