Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publication Date: 3/22/11
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Blurb (GR): At age 16, Rhine Ellery has four years to live. Thanks to a botched effort to create a perfect race, all females live to age 20 and males live to age 25. On the cusp of her 17th birthday, Rhine attempts to flee, but what she finds is a society spiraling out of control.
Oh boy, do I have problems with this new crop of YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic lit! I am starting to think that the authors who attempt to explore this genre have no understanding of what it takes to write such books. Just making up some new horrible way people are treated in a future society and adding in some angsty love triangle isn't enough!
I don't want to sound too lectur-y, but these new, young writers probably do not realize that to create a dystopian/post-apocalyptic society that is believable, they need to: 1) understand how our current world works; 2) be able to identify cultural, political, economical trends that can possibly affect humanity in a major way in future; 3) realize that when they set their eyes on extrapolating a certain trend, they need to have their characters react to it in a logical (in terms of human psychology) way.
Let's take Wither. About 70 year prior to the beginning of the story, humanity got itself into a huge bind. Playing with genetic engineering, scientists created a new, improved type of people, cured of decease, with longer lives, etc. Only the offsprings of these new people have some side effects - females now die at the age of 20 and males - of 25 (this number thing is weird, but ok, I am not going to linger on it). What happens now is that young girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriage to procreate. The main character of this novel, 16-year old Rhine, is now one of 4 wives and is scared for her future...
You know what my problem is, right here? The notion that barely out of teen years young men would be so preoccupied with procreation. Why would they care to make babies? They will be dead in a couple of years! Why would anyone in this world care to have children or place a value on them if they never see them grow, if they never were raised by their own parents?
Such a strong pro-procreation scheme requires a lot of conditioning IMO, some structure that makes young people accept the idea they need to waste their precious years on being pregnant and producing children. You need some older people to think-up and maintain the procreation cycle, because mostly older people care about this sort of thing. Throw a couple of dozen of teens on an island, tell them they only have four years to live and see how many will think about the next generation. There are some "first generation" people around in this novel, who can live their lives until old age, but I never found them very influential in this world DeStefano created. More often than not they are domestics, and not evil masterminds.
Then the whole structure of this world is just unbelievable. Why do these people want to give birth to children when there is nobody to take care of them and so many of them run wild? Why do they kill young girls if they are so valuable as wombs? Who actually makes these young people work if they know they are about to die? What motivates them to go to work? None of these questions were answered convincingly to me.
The entire dystopian/post-apocalyptic premise is faulty in my mind. My rant here only pertains to a fraction of issues I have with it. There are great reviews, like this one that explore holes in the world building in terms of economics, politics, etc.
You might think I am too nit-picky, question everything, but I just read Paolo Bacigalupi's short story "The People of Sand and Slag" in which people eat sand, regrow their limbs and embellish their bones with blades and I totally bought it! When written right, any, even the most outrageous premise, can make you believe in it.
I am sure there will be some people taken by Wither. They will like being shocked/disgusted/titillated by the scenes of polygamy, the main character's constant fear of being raped and impregnated, 13-year old girl having sex with her much older husband (and liking it), mentions of Kama Sutra, etc. I personally found some aspects of this novel distasteful.
Instead of Wither I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale and The Children of Men which deal with similar themes, but in a more responsible and sophisticated way.