WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Book Reviews
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As a librarian, I read hundreds of titles every year, and a good percentage of them get tossed aside before the final chapters. Maybe I’m jaded, maybe my standards are too high, but if I’m not enchanted in the opening pages, I’m out.

I’m always looking for the next un-put-down-able novel.


WITHER is that book.

DeStefano plunges the reader into an alternate reality—a terrifying, near future. In the quest to eradicate disease and imperfection, mankind loses life span. Genetic engineering gives a first generation a healthy, unnaturally long life, but their children and grandchildren pay an unforeseen price. Now, a fatal, mysterious virus claims all girls at age twenty, and all boys at twenty five.

While the rest of world lies charred and broken, North America survives—a wealthy upper class feebly hangs on by forcing young women into polygamous marriages in order to sustain the population.

In WITHER, sixteen year old Rhine Ellery endures this fate. Against her will, she’s torn from her twin brother and spirited away to marry Linden, the son of a wealthy, controlling man. Linden’s father is a doctor searching for an antidote to the virus.

And he’ll do anything for a cure, no matter who has to die.

As Rhine discovers the secrets behind the good doctor’s work, the noose tightens. Imprisoned in Linden’s beautiful, illusory mansion, she has to find an escape or face living out her remaining days trapped a doll’s house.

Complicated relationships develop between Rhine, her captors, and her sister wives. Rhine’s emotions shift realistically, she matures into an intelligent, resourceful young woman determined to fight fate and keep hope alive for herself and for Gabriel, the brave and loyal servant who becomes her truest ally and soul-mate. Their fates are entwined–it’s their freedom which hangs in the balance.

DeStefano’s details are so vividly spun, her characters so fully formed, I found myself completely drawn in by page five. This is not a run of the mill high gloss, high concept novel. Yes, the plot zings, but the quality of DeStefano’s writing eclipses the premise.

Rhine’s voice—all at once, heartbreakingly real and elegantly melancholy—is WITHER’S pulsing lifeblood, its driving force. At turns, I devoured pages. At other moments, I lingered over passages, rereading sentences to savor their emotional heft and clarity.

I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed the book. I experienced the same thrill–the same rush of anxiety and sadness and hope–I felt when I first read THE HANDMAID’S TALE, THE HUNGER GAMES, and MATCHED. My favorite elements of all of these came to life in DeStefano’s debut.

WITHER is lush and literary and compelling.

It is worthy.

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Better than Anything Cake. It’s *almost* as rich as WITHER.

  1. Just read your review & instantly went to Amazon.com to download the book on my Kindle….but it doesn’t release until March!! BUMMER!! How do you get copies so early?? Is it an ARC??

  2. jmartinlibrary says:

    Amy, yes it was an ARC. Simon & Schuster has a “galley grab” site with downloadable arcs. I think you’ll really love this one! (And check out DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth…another big upcoming dystopian.)

  3. christacarol says:

    Love the cover. If your review hadn’t have sold me, the cover would have!

  4. Sounds awesome! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • jmartinlibrary says:

      BTW, I loved the EDGES review on your blog. I’m really enjoying the YA contemps I’ve read lately. Putting that one on my list.

  5. Trisha Wofle says:

    Great review! I couldn’t put it down either! I find myself still thinking about it. I love DeStefano’s writing. Chilling and haunting, and powerful.

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