Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Rating: PG-13; 4 ½
Summary: Rhine lives in a world devastated by a genetic virus: females only live to be 20, males to 25. At 16, Rhine is kidnapped and sold to be one of three new brides for wealthy architect whose father is desperately trying to find a cure for this virus. Although she is treated well by her new husband, and forms fledgling friendships with the other girls around her, Rhine is desperate to find a way home to her twin brother. She becomes even more desperate when she finds out that all isn't as it seems in her new home, and that the seemingly harmless may be surprisingly sinister.
Opinions: To start off, I had the impression, based on the formatting of the excerpt on Simon and Schuster's website, that this would be a novel in verse. Now let me tell you, dystopian fiction is my favorite genre, and verse novels are my favorite format, so I was pretty excited about that. Well, it isn't. However, that shouldn't be a huge deterrent for anyone, because there are many times throughout the course of the novel that DeStefano's prose definitely feels like poetry; her writing can be truly beautiful. I've been obsessing over this novel since I stumbled upon it, and because of that I have read some of the short fiction that DeStefano has on her website. It all has this dreamy, poetic feel to it that sticks with you.
I really enjoyed this book. It's about a medium-length book, not too long, not too short. Still, I could have breezed through it in about a day and a half, if I had wanted to. I chose to savor it instead—wondering what would happen to Rhine and her sister-wives. It was worth it. The characters are very life-like and consistent. They all have their personalities, and when they do change, it feels real. Occasionally, Rhine's sister-wife, Cecily, can be the exception to that, but the reader can go along with it because she is significantly younger than the other characters. There were times when Rhine's determination to escape to find her brother irritated me, but I realized halfway through the novel that this was because I knew I would never be brave enough to do the same. The world is realistic too—you can feel the hopelessness of a society that never ages, and the descriptions of everything, from desolate Manhattan to glitzy parties, makes it all seem real. Between the characters and the world, this book really draws you in.
Now for the ratings: this book is definitely PG-13. Part of the plot has to do with controversial genetic experiments, etc. There is also some violence, particularly in the first chapter, as sort of an initiation of the reader into DeStefano's world. There is some sexual content, but most of it is brief, and none of it is graphic. Some readers may have an issue with the ages of the characters having sex, but because society dies so soon, it is a necessity and not merely to shock the reader. I am unsure as to whether 4 ½ stars is the right rating for this book. I absolutely loved it, but part of me thinks that something was missing. I worry that I am biased because it turned out to not be in verse, when I thought it would be. Rest assured that it is an excellent book, and if it isn't 4 ½ stars, then it is certainly worth five stars.
Overall, this was a fantastic book. The ending seemed a little bit rushed (mainly the final chapter), but this is a trilogy, and assuming the next book picks up right, the ending shouldn't be that much of an issue at all. I certainly am looking forward to the next book in this series, and I hope that DeStefano keeps writing, because I will keep reading her work (on a side note—according to Goodreads her influences include Francesca Lia Block and Vladimir Nabokov, two of my favorite authors. No wonder I like her writing so much!)
Disclaimer: ARC was provided by the publisher. The release date is currently set for March of 2011.