It seems that recently several dystopian novels (Matched, Delirium) have been published which center around the idea of a predetermined or forced marriage in a futuristic setting. While similar in concept, Wither seems to take the concept once step further by actually portraying a teenager in a polygamous marriage. That little tidbit alone initially kept me from sinking into Rhine's story from the beginning. I was turned off by all the inherent implications of such a storyline but once I got further into the story, I found myself very impressed by Lauren DeStefano's careful handling of the topic. Yes, it does read a bit like The Handmaid's Tale but the terrifying bits are kept to a young adult level.
I was especially impressed with DeStefano's rendering of the human conflicts inherent in a polygamous marriage - aspects I was truly nervous about. Rhine's dealings with her two sister-wives, Jenna and Cecily, became a highlight while reading as both characters brought their own unique viewpoints and experiences to the situation. I cannot imagine being thrown into such a situation with two other teenage girls and Ms. DeSefanto does an admirable job of underscoring the unsteady nature of that crazy relationship. And just like her attitude towards Jenna and Cecily, Rhine's role as wife to Linden often winds up becoming blurred as well. None of Rhine's relationships in Wither are simple and that is what really kept me reading until the end.
Despite the readability of Wither, one thing I never quite understood was Rhine's constant aversion to Housemaster Vaughn dissecting bodies in order to better comprehend the genetic alteration responsible for early death. Isn't that what's done in order to develop a cure? Especially since Rhine's parents had been scientists too, I find her unwillingness to see the scientific benefits of performing autopsies unbelievable. Maybe it was simply because it was Housemaster Vaughn doing the dissections? I could tell Lauren DeStefano tried to style him as someone subtly menacing and creepy a la President Snow, yet he never quite reached that level of villain in my book. Otherwise however, Wither proved to be an unnerving and well-thought out debut, with lots of promise for the rest of The Chemical Garden series.
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Brittany the Book Slayer review
The Compulsive Reader review
Confessions of a Bookaholic review
book source: ARC provided by the publisher