A review site for conservative, libertarian, center-right readers. We'll tell you what's good, what's bad, what's so-so, and what you'll like even if you have to stumble past liberal tropes to get to a good story
By Allie Duzett
Lauren DeStefano’s debut novel, Wither (2011), takes place in a future United States that has seen almost unimaginable catastrophe: a third world war appears to have destroyed every other nation on the planet, and when research scientists discovered a cure for cancer, they accidentally unleashed a new threat on Earth’s survivors: a fatal virus that strikes when girls turn 20 and boys turn 25.
Wither follows the story of Rhine Ellery, a sixteen-year-old girl with four years to live. She’s been kidnapped by Gatherers and sold to a twenty-one-year-old polygamist in the hopes that she will be a companion for him and provide a few more children to keep society going for that much longer. Needless to say, Rhine is not a big fan of that plan. The plot of the book deals largely with her attempts to escape, along with her crush and servant, Gabriel.
When I first read the back of the book and realized that the story was about teenage polygamists tasked with producing children, I was admittedly horrified that my teen sister would choose to read such a thing. To me, the description indicated that the book was probably just an excuse for lots of sex scenes, and I decided I would pass. However, after a few other people recommended the book to me, I decided I’d give it a go. I was glad I did.
Surprisingly enough, for a story entirely about teenage polygamists, while there are brief mentions of sex, there is nothing explicit and the main character starts and ends the book as a virgin.
At the heart of the book’s society is the conflict between the “pro-naturalists,” who believe that people should stop seeking an antidote to the virus, and the “pro-scientists,” who believe that man can find a cure. Pro-naturalists bomb pro-science laboratories, where researchers take living infants and run tests on them in search for a cure. The struggle seems reminiscent of radical animal rights groups of today. While the animal rights people are bombing medical laboratories to save the animals (while actually killing the animals in the laboratories), medical professionals are working to use the creatures they test to find cures for human suffering. Of course, in the book, it’s very different, because the testing medical researchers do is on human infants and orphaned children. Wither does not fully explore these ethical issues, but that is the backdrop against which the story takes place.
At Wither‘s core is a question: is humankind worth saving? Can humankind be saved? The book’s backdrop focuses heavily on the nature of the human race–which also happens to be the source of conflict between current left-wing and right-wing paradigms. Is humanity inherently flawed–and if so, should we try to fix those flaws, or work around them? Can we fix the flaws in human nature? If so, how? Can science perfect a person? These questions, especially the last, are questions characters in Wither must face. Wither is an exploration into humankind’s unintended consequences.
The story is captivating, but at times the characters’ actions seem false or forced. I did not think the romance was very convincing, and Rhine’s life prior to her polygamy did not seem worth going back to. I had a hard time figuring out why she would bother trying to escape, especially since her husband seemed fine with just letting her do her own thing.
I had a lot of questions about the economic system: if everyone keeps dying so young, how do they even have jobs, really? Rhine’s husband is an architect–but how did he learn his craft so quickly, and who even is there to build and then buy his houses?
Despite the flaws of this book (I will add that it is also, unfortunately, written in the present tense), it is a captivating read. I read the book in two sittings and enjoyed it. Overall, three out of five stars.
Allie Duzett writes articles for magazines that you probably haven’t heard of; plays the organ for her church; and reads and writes way more YA literature than any adult should probably be allowed to. Oh well. She is also incredibly good-looking.