Friday, April 1, 2011

Review - Wither

Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Set in a nearby future where, due to genetic experimentation, males only live to age 25 and girls to 20, young children are routinely orphaned, extreme poverty is everywhere, and the threat of a young girl being kidnapped and sold into a polygamous marriage to those few wealthy men is common, Rhine is one such child bride. At the age of 16 she finds herself married to Linden, a frail and willowy 21 year old whose first wife and true love is quickly dying at the age of 20. Along with her two sister wives, Jenna (age 18) and Cecily (13), Rhine is expected to take the place of Linden's first wife.

This is unlike other books marketed as dystopian that I've read. While there is a worldwide issue, the story is much more focused on Rhine being forced into a polygamous marriage than it is the crisis of everyone dying so young. As this is the first in a planned trilogy, it's entirely possible that the short lifetime will become a bigger issue in the next two books.

Rhine is a wonderful character with a surprisingly fleshed-out history that really added to the understanding of who she is and the decisions she makes. Likewise I loved her two sister wives and the relationships she had with each of them. While Jenna is beautiful but stubborn and hates their husband, young Cecily is ecstatic about her rich new life and eager to fit into her new role. Each of these characters (as well as their husband, Linden) changed throughout the course of the novel and I loved reading about them. To be honest there was a part of me that wished this story had been told through each girls' perspective just because I liked Jenna and Cecily so much.

Unfortunately, while I loved Rhine's relationships with her sister wives, the relationship she had with Linden came across a little lukewarm to me. Her feelings towards him often seem a bit wishy-washy and she seemed oblivious to a few key things that seemed fairly obvious to me. I felt that her fond feelings for him were a part of the story just to provide something of a love triangle between Linden, Rhine, and Gabriel (the servant boy she falls for) and this didn't ring true to me. Although as an aside, this may be due in part to the fact that I thought the slow development of Rhine and Gabriel's feelings was incredible and I really loved him as a character.

Aside from the characters and their relationships, the plot here is one that definitely kept me on my toes. There's a genuine darkness and sense of dread to this book, which is as much a mystery as it is dystopian, and I found it difficult not to skip ahead to the last page (don't worry, I didn't!) to find out how it ends. The ending, while offering hope, seemed almost too easy and didn't bring a real satisfaction to the rest of the story. While this is the first in a trilogy and I'm sure the various mysteries will be unraveled in the next two books, I am of the opinion that a first book should be able to stand on its own and unfortunately I don't think this one does.

*Received ARC at ALA.

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