Sunday, April 1, 2012

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Title: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:  At first glance, this cover falls into the category of "pretty girl in a pretty dress".  However, upon closer inspection there are several elements that tell a lot about the story.  These elements are tied together by lines and circles, the reader is enticed to follow.  I am a big fan of covers that beg re-examination and allow for exclamations of "Oh!" as the text and the cover begin to meld together in a wonderful stew of symbolism. 

The Gist:  Rhine Ellery's life is ebbing away.  She knows that, like all young women born of her generation, she will die at the age of 20.  No longer believing in the possibility of a miracle cure, she was content to live out her days struggling for survival with her brother, Rowan.  However, the Gatherers had different plans.  They swept her off the streets of New York and put her on display as a child bride for the wounded Linden.  Now, surrounded by wealth and opulence, Rhine sees the damage and decay beneath the beautiful facade and begins her fight to escape and to live the meager years she has left, as she chooses.

Review:  On the surface, it appears that Rhine has found paradise.  A sprawling mansion, a gentle and caring husband and fellow wives whom she grows to love as sisters.  However, this world is based on an illusion, nothing on the surface is real and it is only when one ventures below that they finally see the sharks that have been circling their legs the entire time.  Rhine must decide whether it is better to live (and die) in a beautiful illusion or to risk her life escaping to a world that is harsh and cruel, but real.  
Destefano does not allow for one dimensional characters and presents each of her creations as a unique individual with motivations and desires that are the reader can understand, even if we don't necessarily agree with them.  Vaughn, in particular, is an incredible villain.  He is singularly focused and willing to sacrifice anyone in order to further his cause.  His every word is cold, calculating and dripping with double meanings.  But, even in such a cruel an cunning man, we are able to see his motivation and to question what levels we might stoop to in the hopes of finding a cure.

In Wither the plot does not explode like a firework but rather unfurls slowly but steadily, enveloping the reader and investing them in the lives of each character.  Unfortunately, there is a lack of tension that tempers the excitement level. I adore books that leave the reader holding their breath, willing for fate to step in an ensure success for our heroine, this was not one of those books.  There was simply not a strong enough sense of danger to make me actually fear for Rhine's life. 
This book is a strong opening to the trilogy.  I look forward to seeing what other horrors this world holds.

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Spoken about but not described. 
Violence: Kidnapping, poisoning?
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  Underage drinking
Other Issues: Child brides, polygamy, pregnancy in a young girl and her giving birth


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