Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Pub date: March 22, 2011.

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

I'm not a chick that falls easily into hype but sometimes it can be hard to avoid, like with this book. It seems like EVERYONE absolutely LOVES this book. I have not come across one blogger saying anything to the contrary. Of course I could be missing a few but those that I do wander across, love. I had to wade into Goodreads reviews to find black sheep like myself that found serious fundamental issues with this story on multiple levels. Did I buy into the hype initially? To an extent. Books get pimped all the time but it's not all that often that they're swayed so heavily like Wither was. So when I went to read it, my expectations were slightly higher than normal. Unfortunately the book didn't even come close to meeting them. And of course I then started to freak out a little and that's when I started looking for the less than stellar reviews. Did anyone else feel like I did about Wither? Yes. They're the minority but yes. As some asstastic random commenters on Goodreads would have it, anyone with a dissenting opinion against the overwhelming majority should just shut the hell up and keep their opinions to themselves or suffer the wrath. Sillies. Does that sound like me?

See, with dystopian fiction, you can't just insert random catastrophic, shock value events for people to live around without having a thorough understanding of how our society works today and how this current society would potentially break down under such apocalyptic situations. So when I see a statement in the ilk of 'the ice caps were vaporized long ago by warfare' with zero environmental nor humanstic repercussions for such an event, my suspension of disbelief gets punched in the face. It can only take so many hits before it just gives up. DeStefano punched my disbelief in the face. A lot.

If the elements in a dystopian world don't make sense, I just can't take the rest of the plot seriously because everything ends up disjointed. Let's take those ice caps (which is a near quote from the book, by the way). They were vaporized by warfare. Breaking that down, we would have to have weaponry that ran so hot it could vaporize Antarctica. Which holds a steady -35 degrees Celsius. Okay. Hot weapons. But if they're cataclysmic enough to do that, what about the rest of the planet? Would it not get completely annihilated? People, we'd turn into Mercury if there were weapons that could do that. Since weapons of mass destruction have not moved beyond the nuclear warhead in the 65 years it's been in existence, and this story is only set about 70 years in the future, it's relatively logical to assume that they haven't moved much beyond that. And since nukes now are capable of ass raping humanity, what this premise is saying that they've created something beyond that that have been used but people still exist. No, sorry. You can't just pick and choose which elements to remove without considering the greater repercussions of that action. And this isn't even considering the environmental impact of releasing millions of square miles of ice as vapor into the atmosphere. Guys, we'd have beach-front property in Kansas if that happened. We'd have floods of Arc proportions that would have even Noah going 'fuck this shit.'

Do you see what I mean? Since we have Rhine going from Manhattan to Florida, from that tiny statement alone my suspension of disbelief has a black eye, a bloody nose and is missing a tooth. Factor in a nonsensical virus that no one can explain yet everyone's looking for a cure to (how you can fight something you know nothing about is beyond me and how no one knows how it works after 50 years is absurd), women dying before men (when, scientifically, women outlast men, and again, this virus seems to function for no other reason than shock value), how the society has de-evolved to a Victorian polygamists' compound (despite coming from a feminist culture where women should be smart enough to hold their crotchtal regions hostage and switch control since, you know, they're the ones with the power to control the fate of procreation in their . . . nether regions), the whole of the planet has destroyed itself in viral chaos except for North American (which, upon first mention, had me going 'are you fucking kidding me?' either the author is shitting on the rest of the planet for being feral idiots that couldn't survive the virus or she's shitting on Americans for being dumb enough to believe that we're the only ones superior enough to survive this, either way it's bad), girls getting slaughtered for not being bride material (in a society where a womb is like gold, makes total sense O_o) and the kick to the nuts the author gives sensical dystopian fiction, my suspension of disbelief was pureed in a blender and drunk for breakfast.

The world failed hard. Nothing made sense and everything seemed to exist to serve the plot. DeStefano pushed aside what should have been valuable research for shock value and pretty dresses.

And then there were inconsistencies in the plot, like Rhine's desperation to leave. Yet when she's presented with perfectly valid windows of opportunity, she passes on them for one stupid reason or another. With her earthly clock winding down, you'd think time would be valuable. Waste none, right? So instead of taking the opportunity to, literally, walk away, Rhine tried to made mad dashes in the most horrible, inconvenient ways. Why? I have no idea other than to make the plot more interesting.

Linden's an idiot pedophile whose ignorance is made to actually be appealing. He doesn't know what his dad is doing. His father keeps him in the dark. Maybe he isn't so bad after all. No. He's no more ignorant of what's going on in his own damn house than the Germans were of the camps they were living next to. Sorry, guy, but you don't live in the middle of a shit pile and not smell the stink. It really bothered me how his whole situation attempted to make Rhine's blooming Stockholm syndrome justifiable and even okay. No! She was kidnapped! Her "sister wives" are being raped! This is not okay! But of course Rhine gets a free pass. In a house where Vaughn is salivating to produce loinfruit, Rhine doesn't have to get down with her pedo-husband for . . . reasons . . . I guess. She just weasels her way out of it. Or someone didn't want to write a rape scene from behind the eyes of the MC. Either or.

Any antagonist in this story is implied and insinuated but never shown. Yeah, we see Vaughn with a body in a gurney but anything outside of that window is pure conjecture. We hear gunshots but the door's closed before anything could actually be proven. The fear is spread by rumors and wild imaginations. As far as we know, there is no threat. But people's wagging jaws and out-of-context scenes keep the fear alive. We have no idea what really happens outside of Rhine's eyes. She doesn't even know what happens outside of her eyes. She just guesses.

The words on paper were good enough to get me from beginning to end. I was definitely compelled to read through to the end and find out what happened to Rhine, despite the fact that I found her to be a whiny brat without the brain she kept saying she had in Manhattan. I liked the oldest sister wife whose name escapes me right now. I found her the most dynamic, the most compelling character. But the world is written so lazily and the situations so nonsensical that I just couldn't get into it. I couldn't push the niggling back far enough to enjoy it. Sorry, but I'm science-minded and I don't like it when people fuck over science for the sake of dances and bubble baths and candies. If I can't believe the world in which these characters live, how I even begin to believe them?

In all honesty, I'd bet money on the cure for this virus being in Rhine's multi-colored eyes. It's mentioned too hard and fast in this book not to carry weight further on down the line. You don't show a gun in the first act and not have it go off in the third, you know? So I would not be surprised if Rhine lives beyond her scheduled 20 years because of some genetic mutation caused by those multi-colored eyes. Or the twin thing factors into it, or both. They both survive because they split off from the same egg, thus each carrying the same mutation to both embryos and saving both children, only one's dominant and one's recessive. The twin thing is pretty dominant in the story too, and it was mentioned that Rhine and her brother were the first non-deformed twins her parents had. But I might be thinking way too far ahead of myself here because this is all branched off of scientific accuracy, which this book spits in the face of.

When it comes down to it, remove the characters from the story and set them in ether and you have a love triangle coupled with kidnapping. It's not a "normal" love triangle where the contenders are evenly matched. One is made pretty obvious over the other here and the other two chicks are there basically for shock value. They're not competition (I guess) but they don't really serve a purpose other than to serve Rhine's plot.

Chances are you'll get sucked into it but personally, you have to turn your suspension of disbelief way up to get through it. Like I said, I was compelled to read through to the end and I liked the ending. The story could rightly end there (although we know it doesn't), it was nice and cleanly finished in a happy ending sort of way. It was nice. But the rip-my-hair out parts far exceeded anything good I found in Wither. There are far better, and far more believable, dystopians available out there that couple not only a strong (and less squick-worthy) romance but a well-built, believable world to set it in.


Lilixtreme said...

Oh, D, I'm dreading doing a review for this book. I agree that there was too much conjecture and everything was far from proven precisely. Your predictions of the cure may be true, and I squirm at being forced to read the manifestations that the author would come up with to hide that jem in a whole other installment to this series. And how much more anti-climatic could the ending be? That's what really ticked me off. (Rhine's parents too, but that's another story all in itself. Those flashbacks she had were just terrible.)

Emily said...

Awesome review! As much as I love dystopian stories, I've been burned recently by unrealistic plots and unbelievable characters. XVI and Water Wars come to mind. A lot of the problems you had with Wither I had with these 2.

I think I'll still give Wither a try - maybe see if my library has a copy before I go out and buy one.

Thanks for the honesty! Always appreciated :)

Angelique said...

Fantastic review. I wasn't crazy about this one either, too many elements just didn't add up for me.
Not as deliciously scathing as yours, but here's my review if you care to check it out...


Anonymous said...

You know, I wrote a fantastic review of Wither... and I still agree with all your points. I didn't find Rhine whiny, but I didn't notice the things about the world until you pointed it out. I still love the story - I got sucked in - but perhaps that's because I don't mind turning my suspension of disbelief way up.

Fantastic review, Donna!

Laura @ A Jane of All Reads said...

A long time ago (because I'm old) I use to listen to Howard Stern and I remember he would get more upset than usual whenever he and Robin would disagree on something, like THAT just wasn't suppose to happen. We are not in agreement lately, you and I. I LOVED this book and you didn't. You LOVED Delirium and I didn't. We're not in sync right now and I find it odd and off-puttin', like Ricky Bobby praying to the baby Jesus. Can we read something we both like now? Or something we both vehemently dispise? That would be even better.

Rochelle said...

This review is why I love your blog.

I have read about 30 reviews of Wither, all full of praise, so much positive feedback that even I was going to buy it. Because I couldn't understand why everyone is so gaga over this book.

I actually read your review out loud, because my overly-sarcastic tone of voice was the best fit for it. I do love all your reviews, whether they're 5 bites or no bites, but your negative ones always make me laugh out loud. They're hilarious, well thought and detailed as to why you felt the book didn't do justice. You keep it real and I applaud you for that.

Donna (Bites) said...

LAJ, I knew something felt off. Now I know why. I seem to be in a string of less-than-stellar books. Hopefully when I come round again, our tastes will rematch. If we go too far off base, the earth may start spinning backwards. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be responsible for something like that.

Rochelle, you got me wanting to do vlogs for bad reviews now so you guys can hear what they sound like from my head! Although I'm sure you pretty much got it down pat. It's just so much easier to ramble on like this when I didn't like the book. The flaws become that much more magnified.

Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

I won this book ages ago. I figured with all the hype I had better get to reading it. I ended up putting it down. I still may read it later but I really thought it sounded stupid. I didn't read too far in but as you said humans de-evolved into Victorian polygamists'?! I mean really any modern guy who knew he would live to 25 would just be all keep the booze and chicks coming not omg I must impregnate every girl out there wtf is that. So yeah I don't get all the love this book has gotten.

Alexia561 said...

Great review! Like Nicole, I got sucked into the story and didn't notice the holes until you pointed them out, but I still really enjoyed the book and want to see what happens next! You should totally do a vlog on your next negative review, as I'd love to see the eye-rolling and hear the dripping sarcasm! *L*

Think I enjoy your negative reviews more than the positive ones, because you back everything up with examples but are still entertaining!

Jinny said...

Loved your review! I just read the book and wrote my own blog post about it, and I think we agreed on most points -- what a contradictory, unbelievable world! It just doesn't make sense at all. I also don't understand what the appeal is with this book, it boggles my mind.

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