Book Review: Wither

by Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Sci-Fi, Post-Apocalyptic
Big Themes: Polygamy, Reproduction, Genetics, Virus, Social Class, Love, Escape, Death

Summary: In the future, mankind suffers from a terrible virus that kills men at age 25 and women at age 20.  Scientists are desperately seeking a cure whilst the world has been driven to poverty, kidnapping, prostitution, and lawlessness.  A girl named Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage.  Rhine is showered with gifts, fine clothing, and the best food in the mansion of a wealthy mad scientist, but looks for a way to escape and return to the free world and her twin brother.

What I Liked:
Originality: This premise hasn’t been done before.  The idea of humans messing with genetics to the point where they do something drastically wrong to the genetic code (and can’t undo it) is a fascinating starting point for a science fiction story.

Gritty Beauty: The contrast between the splendor and richness of Rhine’s surroundings with the horror of the disease and state of the world was mesmerizing.  It reminded me of the gritty urban fantasy worlds of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.  The contrast between beauty and darkness draws attention to the extremes of this post-apocalyptic world, though I’m curious to see if the author does more than just draw attention to the differences between social classes.

Characterization: I grew to love several of the characters and thought they were well-developed.  Jenna, Cecily, Dierdre, and even Linden were full and complex personalities.

What I Didn’t Like:
World-Building: If this were simply a story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken to a mansion, then I might have been satisfied with the world-building.  The mansion is a fully developed location.  But the rest of the world?  I could not buy into how the world got to be the way it is.  People dying young does not in my mind equal kidnapping, killing, and forcing girls into prostitution.  The world was described as so unsafe for girls that they weren’t even out of danger in their own locked and booby-trapped homes.  I really don’t understand how the world got to be this way.  This world is so violent against women that it seems implausible.  Especially considering the trigger is a genetic virus… Genetic Virus = Enslaving Women???

Rhine’s Conflict Resolution: I completely understand Rhine wanting her freedom back.  That is completely understandable after being kidnapped.  But I did not understand her logic of wanting to go back to the life she led before.  Cowering in the basement with dead rats in a booby-trapped home?  Not feeling safe walking anywhere because someone might pull you into a dark truck in an alley?  Yes, you have memories of family and your old life.  Yes, you have your twin brother who does what he can to protect you.  But this is no way to live.  And if she goes back, she’s just going back to living in fear and possibly being kidnapped again.

So when Rhine is at the mansion, her only plan is to escape, with no money or resources, and make her way from Florida back to Manhattan.  This plan is idiotic.  Rhine is presented as intelligent.  Her parents insisted on her being educated and she has more knowledge of the world than most other girls.  But this plan shows no indication of her intelligence.  Here are some other plans that I would have liked to see Rhine try:

  • Asking Linden if he could find her twin brother, Rowan
  • Revealing to Linden what a creeper his dad is
  • Actually figuring out what creeper Vaughn does down in the basement
  • Getting the house staff to rebel against Vaughn
  • Researching hidden islands or remains of the other continents
  • Asking Linden to go on a boating trip (bringing Gabriel)

There were just so many different directions that the author could have went in that would have shown more strength and intelligence on Rhine’s part.  And Linden never presented himself as an unreasonable character.  He really did love Rhine and we are led to believe that he did not know the violence that brought her here or the life he had stolen from her.  I would have liked to see Rhine at least try to reason with him.

My Rating: Only 3 stars, and I think that’s pretty generous.  The reason I’m being generous is because I’m hoping DeStefano has a plan up her sleeve for the rest of the trilogy.  If I weren’t doing this event, I’m not quite sure I’d pick up the sequel, Fever, on my own initiative.  But I already started Fever, and let’s just say I think Rhine’s total lack of planning is getting her into some pretty deep trouble.

This book review was part of the Catch Wither Fever Event.
Stay tuned for my review of the second book in the trilogy, Fever.

10 comments on “Book Review: Wither

  1. fakesteph says:

    I'm right with you!!! Not sure I can bring myself to pick up Fever, even for this event! I'm about to post my review this afternoon! And you are totally right about all the other storylines! I never felt like Rhine took any risks (except the windmill incident which was poorly planned and idiotic) and the very last chapters… and SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T READ IT…. why did they go to the movies? I just… I mean… seriously?

  2. Debz says:

    I definitely agree with you. I loved the complex feel of the whole book, and I think gritty beauty is a great way to describe it. The world building definitely was strange, and left me with a lot of questions of how the heck things could be that way. Basically the whole last half of my review is full of my thought about the world-building.I love your list of better plans for Rhine's escape. They all make much more sense than what she did, but I think maybe she was just so desperate to get out of the mansion that she wasn't thinking straight about it(?)Anyways, I really like your review. I've heard some mixed reviews about Fever, but I'm looking forward to yours!~Debz

  3. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like this book so much. And don't feel like you have to read Fever – it's not required for the giveaway or anything. Actually, all you have to do to enter the giveaway is enter this link in for the required entry and then you can earn more entries! Easy link to enter: Catch Wither Fever Read-Along Event. And I've added this review to the Catch Wither Fever Event Post List.But I agree with a lot of the points that you bring up. One of the things that really bothered me was that we read Rhine's thoughts on Vaughn and what he's doing, but we only ever see him being creepy like once. And the rest of the world did not make sense to me. And yeah, why the heck would they resort to killing girls or forcing them into polygamous marriages? Wouldn't they just make them all procreate more?I liked your list of alternatives that Rhine could have done. Yeah, why would she want to go back to her rat-infested house? I know I wouldn't. But I guess she was just so obsessed with having her freedom, and seeing her brother again…Great review, Lauren, and thanks so much for participating in the Catch Wither Fever event!

  4. I agree with what you said about Rhine's choices. I found it really hard to respect Rhine as a person and as a character.

  5. LHughes says:

    HAHAHAHA And zombie movies no less! Weird choice. Was that supposed to be symbolic somehow? I'm so confused!

  6. LHughes says:

    That's a good point about her desperation maybe not making her think clearly. I just wish that if that was going to be the case then the author shouldn't have made her seem so intelligent (and even manipulative). I thought she could have been more resourceful.

  7. LHughes says:

    I totally agree with you that we only saw Vaughn being creepy once! He totally could have been creepier and I wish Rhine had been forced to interact with him more because then there would have been more tension and more desperation for her to run away.I didn't totally hate the book. It had a cool premise and DeStephano is a good writer, in terms of making me care about certain characters and the way she describes things (I totally wanted to try a June Bean!) I'm still curious about how Fever will turn out.And sometimes it's fun to read a book and get to be critical!

  8. LHughes says:

    Yeah, this book would be a great one to do a feminist critique of…

  9. Caroline says:

    I have seen this book on the shelves and been on the fence about it. I agree, that I wasn't sure how dying young would produce such a horrible world (like the one that you described being in the house) and I was hoping that would be explained in the book…but it seems that it wasn't. Also, your point about wanting to go back to her old life: just reading your review I was like, why leave all that for a seemingly miserable life. I'm really glad you reviewed this book. It seems that my gut instinct was right in putting it back.

  10. LHughes says:

    I definitely would not buy it. But if you ever need a book to slam with feminist critique this one would rock and you could get it for free at the library. But I wouldn't really recommend it with so many other awesome reads out there.

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