Wither by Lauren DeStefano
March 22, 2011; Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
-I received this book free courtesy of the S&S Galley Grab
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. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Wither is a true dystopian novel. Dark, dark, dark. Fleeting glimpses of happiness. More darkness. Rhine's world is short and unpleasant. A virus has infected the entire human population so that men only live 25 years and women only live 20 years. At those appointed ages, they all die of a horrible virus. This is a world without parents. Children are left as young orphans, inevitably doomed to a life of horrible poverty. To prolong the human race, society has become obsessed with pro-creation. The wealthy kidnap girls and force them to marry their sons.
Rhine was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in a van full of girls headed to the marriage auction block. Rhine was one of three girls chosen to marry. The remaining girls were shot in the back of the van. What a cheery start for a novel!
Rhine and her new sister wives are married off to the wealthy 20-year old Linden. I loved the depiction of Rhine and her sister wives. There's Rose, who is as prickly as her name and is on the verge of death. Jenna is a beauty, but even more miserable than Rhine. 13-year-old Cecily dreams of being the perfect wife and mother. She's whiny, ambitious, naive, and very young. The girls develop a true sisterhood - there are some fights and jealousy - but they love and help one another. Their growing relationships were the strongest part of the novel.
Rhine left her twin brother Rowan behind. She is devastated without him and longs to escape her marital prison. She is stubborn, yet also caring. She's the only person who breaks through Rose's shell, the only person nice to the housestaff, and extremely patient and sympathetic toward the difficult Cecily. As determined as she is to hate Linden forever, she is able to put her anger aside and somewhat sympathize with him. Being the determined girl she is however, she cannot forget where she came from or give up the hope of being free.
The love story of the novel is between Rhine and Gabriel, one of the house servants. I didn't totally get this relationship. They became friends as he served her. I liked that their relationship wasn't love at first sight, but I never really felt the power behind it. Gabriel was a likeable guy and willing to make a lot of sacrifices for Rhine. Unfortunately, the romance just fell a little flat for me.
I did like that Wither did not turn into a love triangle. Rhine slowly develops sympathy, perhaps respect, for her husband Linden. I loved Linden. He is as trapped by his evil father as Rhine. His first wife, Rose, was the love of his life and he is lost without her. He's a talented architect and quickly becomes dependent upon Rhine. There was no love between Rhine and Linden other than a friendly yet complicated partnership. Ultimately, I felt more connected to Linden than Gabriel, because we got to know him better.
While I did have some quibbles with the romance of Wither, I quite enjoyed the book. That's really saying something considering that I do not like dystopia as a genre. I find it too depressing. Wither certainly was depressing, but the dysfunctional society, the characters, and the plot all drew me in. It isn't a page turner, but it is a book that consistently has you interested in what's going to happen next.
Rating: 4 / 5