Wither by Lauren DeStefano is not for the faint of heart. The book is based on a disturbing premise, and starts off with a bang, with a scene of violence that could turn the stomachs of more delicate readers. But if you’re willing to stick with this edgy and unsettling idea, you’ll find reading Wither to be a very rewarding and thought-provoking experience.
Wither is set in a dystopian future, where a genetic defect causes all males to die at age 25 and all females to die at age 20. As a result, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages in the hopes of perpetuating the population. Wither follows 16-year-old Rhine as she is taken and forced into such a marriage. Though angry with her new husband and her unfortunate situation, Rhine is equally enchanted by the world of wealth and privilege her forced marriage offers her. That leaves Rhine facing a choice: accept her husband’s genuine love for her (and her fellow wives) or convince the charming servant boy Gabriel to help her escape and find her twin brother?
The premise and events of Wither are unsettling, and thematically are not the type of subjects often found in YA. But that’s part of what makes this such a unique and haunting book to read. The intriguing premise (and wondering where it would turn next) is really what kept me engaged as a reader and interested in turning the pages. And the concepts proposed within the book will have you contemplating them days after you’ve finished reading.
That said, the book is extremely slow paced, at times feeling lethargic. It certainly mimics the feelings Rhine and her fellow wives may be feeling — trapped in a routine and confined to a single floor in their husband’s vast mansion. It’s a strange sensation to be reading a book about these confined girls, and feeling confined by the text itself at the same time. An effective technique, for sure, but at times it made it difficult to slog through the text. More action or faster pacing might have helped move things along more smoothly.
Likewise, Rhine’s indecision sometimes made her a difficult character to stick with. For the most part, it’s clear she wants to escape — with Gabriel, to find her brother. But there are times when she’s swept up in the moment by her husband or her sister wives or the wealth and fantasy that surrounds her in this new life. Her wishy-washiness makes her real as a character, yet frustrating to follow as a reader. I’ll be curious to see where her journey takes her in the subsequent books in this intriguing new trilogy.
Wither is in stores March 22nd and will also be our April Book of the Month! In the meantime, here’s the official book trailer: