Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review - Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither is Lauren DeStefano's debut novel and first in her Chemical Garden Trilogy.

Blurb from back cover:

"In the not-too-distant future, because of genetic engineering, every human is a ticking time bomb - males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty.  To keep the population from dying out, girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine is taken, she enters a world of wealth and privilege that both entices and terrifies her.  She has everything she ever wanted - except freedom.  With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to escape before it is too late."

I am torn on this review.  I love the concept and just recently began delving into dystopian lit as a genre.  As an aside, being in the medical field, the possible reality of this novel is terrifying.  There have been studies (yes I am a nerd) that have deleted certain genes from mouse models in an attempt to eliminate the threat of cancer.  The mice did not get cancer, but they experienced very limited lifespans.  This is because the same mechanisms that allow cancer cells to grow, also work to replenish our normal cells on a daily basis...but I won't bore you with the details that I don't completely know anyways.  I applaud DeStefano for her research, and if this was just an idea then you are one smart cookie ;p.  I also smiled when the term heterochromia graced the pages, but like I said mega dork here.

The novel seems divided into two sections for me, leaving me with vastly different opinions.  There is Rhine pre-escape attempt and Rhine post.  I had a very hard time relating to Rhine in the beginning.  She seemed emotionally distant to me and didn't react as I would expect.  She didn't outwardly express her fear, or act as the fighter that I wanted.  The first half of the novel, I got bogged down in the writing style.  Rhine told us how she viewed people, instead of leading us to agree with her through the actions/words of the other characters.  For example, I never felt resentful toward Linden.  He always seemed to be completely naive of the origin of the girls; more a captor of this situation as well, than a force to be hated.  Rhine and the others were terrified of Vaughn, but I didn't get to fully understand why until the latter half.  For these reasons, I had a difficult time connecting with the characters and the flow of the story was almost disjointed for me as a result.

The second half was completely different.  I loved Rhine's character, her duality to dream of freedom but still think of those she would be leaving behind to the fate of the mansion made her real.  The writing style seemed to change for me too, there was more action, more dialogue, more insight into other characters.  I finally saw and despised Vaughn.  Cecily went from being a static character into a multi faceted one.  Linden still struck me the same, but Rhine finally saw him for what I had all along.  I smiled, I was moved to tears, I sped through the pages.

Imagery throughout the novel is very powerful.  The descriptions of the Gatherers hit on primal fear.  All the books, soap operas, movies portray life as it was before...when everyone had 'normal' lifespans and life was a joy not spent in fear of dying at a young age.  What hit home the hardest for me, was that all these children grow up without parents.  Everyone dies so young, that there is no hope for a child to remember much of their parents.  We have children just to leave them unprotected in a cruel world where they will be expected to reproduce and die at a premature age as well.  Who will protect these young ones, who will make sure they are not extorted in the hopes of finding a cure, who will tuck them in at night?  Who will be left to keep the hope alive?

My favorite passage is when Rhine finds out the meaning of her name; the imagery is simply compelling.
Favorite line:
'The man in white says, "What fate has brought together, let no man tear asunder."
Fate, I think, is a thief.'

Since I have two completely different views of a single work, I decided to divide my rating accordingly.  The first portion I give a 3/5.  Second half earns a 4/5.  I am seriously considering re-reading the first bit to see if my opinion would change now that I know the characters better.

Overall rating: 3.5/5



Lily Ghates said...

Haven't read it yet, but that is one gorgeous cover!

Lily Ghates said...

Just got around to reading the full review. Wow...that sounds fascinating. I'm loving the news dystopian trend in YA, and this one sounds particularly riveting. I'll have to check it out one of these days.

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

I, too, had mixed feelings about this book. I felt that it was too dispassionate, and never felt really close to any of the characters ... BUT ... I did want to keep reading to see what happened, and I'm pretty certain to pick up the next one in the series to see if we get some further development.

Helena Sparrow said...

Julie - I understand what you mean. The subject matter and the world she creates is all encompassing and rocked me to the core. But as you said, I had a hard time connecting to the characters, because they felt so emotionally distant. At the same time, the novel has something really special about it and I will definitely be checking in for the next installment.

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