Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Dystopian, science fiction, romance
Summary: On Goodreads
Reviewing: Style, characterisation, world-building
Don't quite capiche?
Well OK, we want a novel that's set in a dystopia world but it also has to appeal to the young adult demographic. How about we bend science and come up with a genetic mutation that kills girls when they turn twenty and boys when they turn twenty-five? And then to add further insult, how about we incorrectly call the mutation a virus, and then tell everyone that North America is the only continent that still exists above sea level (regardless of the fact Mount Everest would not be submerged)? Finally, throw in a love triangle...pentagon in this case, and there you have Wither.
Don't get me wrong, the writing style was wonderful, so much so that I finished the book in two days. Lauren has a charming poetic way with words that really captures the beauty of her weird Victorian/modern world - it's not too much, and not too florid at all. It's hard to put into words but I think the best way to describe it is wistful and reflective. Oh, and angsty. Oodles of it. In fact, I got major kicks from the air of desperation in it. You think your life is bad? Well, you ain't got nothing on Rhine Ellery.
Anyway, not only can Lauren write, she can write well, and her characters all jump out of the page. All of the supporting cast had their time to shine in the spotlight, and despite never being introduced to her brother, I still felt like I knew him through her narrative. The characters here take their time to become known to us - we are told small things like Gabriel's favourite colour and what Rose's favourite sweet is - each of them has something that's unique to them. Of course I do not understand why no one tries to kill Vaughn if he's that much of a bastard.
So now it makes me sad to say why this book only deserves 3/10.
Firstly, because the world-building is totaly unbelievable, and just does not stand up to scrutiny at all. How can they ensure that absolutely everyone on the whole continent opts into this genetic perfection scheme? And then to make the claim that the 'virus' targets all of their children such that none live past twenty or twenty-five - there is no way that turning twenty and twenty-five means time is up. People are all genetically different - all of our biological clocks age differently, so as such, what is the genetic marker that rigidly counts down the days until you hit the big zero? That just smacks of a plot device needed to give the story the angle of desperation. What would be more believable would be if the second generation was born with defects, actual deformities, and come on guys, let's be honest, 'heterochromia' is NOT a defect. Please, Lauren, open a textbook because mutation and virus are different things.
Anyway. My next point - how can one extrapolate that this degeneration of society would then lead straight into polygamy and that it would become such an accepted and widespread thing? It's just too far-fetched! This was what really disgusted me at the start of the book - that in this world, there was no moderation or morality imposed upon the 'rich' people, that there were no governing forces and nothing in between the rich and the poor. Later on, we learn that pedophilia and rape are given the OK in this world and heavens, it's just so wrong! Seriously, I think it's just plain irresponsible of the author to write a thirteen year old who is so up for it, and then to have the publisher's approval to bring this into the world.
As I said before, this could have been a really good book. It kept me reading and reading until the very end, and I was totally gripped by the narrative. If you take away everything that's wrong with the world, suspend your moral issues, then this is just a simple kidnap and imprison story. It could be set in any time, any place, and just so happens to be in a dystopian world because let's face it, that's the Next Big Thing. I only wish that Lauren had chosen to make her debut with something less plot-holey, because damn, she can write well.