My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First off, I would like to share the story of how I came to be reading this book in the first place. Like most of my new books, I first heard about this one from a book review. I went out and purchased it (before BORDERS went kaput), but never actually started reading it once I discovered it is only the first in a trilogy. There is nothing that frustrates me more than having to wait for a second or third book to come out when all I really want to do is read them all NOW and find out what happens. So this one got pushed to the back of my bookshelf to read *Someday*, preferably until at least book #2 is published.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving, and I'm talking with my Aunt Camille who recommends this exact book to me and tells me all about how she got to meet the author at one of her book club discussions. The author's mom happened to be a member of said book club (how cool is that?) Anyway, I came away with a renewed interest in pulling this book off my shelf, but I still wanted to wait for the next one to come out.
Fast forward again to last week, when by a stroke of luck, I won an Advance Reading Copy of the second book, Fever, from Goodreads and immediately thought, "Crap, I need to go read that first book NOW." Needless to say, I was very excited because 1. I never win anything and 2. this is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to read a book before it hits the shelves!
So, now that I've read Wither, I am happy to say it was a really, really good book. The setting of the story is a dystopian future where genetic engineering has backfired. After one generation of "perfected" genetics (the First Generation) in which all major diseases have been eradicated, something goes horribly wrong. Subsequent generations succumb to a new, deadly virus that claims the lives of young women by the age of 20 and young men by the age of 25.
The main character, Rhine, is one of three girls kidnapped and chosen to be the new wives of a rich young man named Linden. In this world, the surviving older First Generation is desperate to keep the human race alive, so girls are often forced into marriages and expected to bear children. Be warned, many of the things that happen are quite disturbing -- Linden's youngest bride Cecily is only 13. But as unsettling as some of the things that happen are, I remind myself that in this world, everything is accelerated. When you know you are going to die at 20, you don't get much of a childhood. When you don't know any better, like naive little Cecily, you don't realize how awful this kind of life really is. Rhine who is a few years older does know better and is desperate to escape this prison of a life. Even as the three girls are trapped in Linden's mansion, they form a very special bond that is quite touching to witness. We even come to realize that Linden is almost as much of a prisoner in this place as his wives are.
I don't want to give too much more away, but I will say that this book kept me interested for every single page. Lauren DeStefano's writing is beautiful, lyrical even, and a joy to read. Amidst all the ugliness and the hovering cloud of death and desperation, she let me see some beauty and a little glimmer of hope. I've read negative critiques saying this story is not plausible and there are too many holes in the world Ms. DeStefano has built, but I say if I can find some magic in such an ugly place, this book has done it's job. If I can feel sympathy and compassion for these characters, come to care about them, and get lost in their story, the author has done her job, and done it well.