Tatiana's Reviews > Wither

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
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Oct 25, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 2011, dystopias-post-apocalyptic, ya
Read in January, 2011

As seen on The Readventurer

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.
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Reading Progress

01/01/2011 page 65
02/01/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 113) (113 new)

Gabry I'm really curious about what you think of this one now.

Tatiana I will write something up tomorrow or day after. I was mostly underwhelmed:(

Cory It looks interesting, but I'm guessing that it falls flat like most YA. Just say it's better than Blue Bloods.

Ceilidh Looking forward to your review. I was intrigued by this book but the Handmaid's Tale similarities worried me because I adore that book.

Tatiana Cory, I think it is better than BB.

Crowinator I am still writing my review and hoping to post it by Monday. I haven't been this conflicted by a book in a long time, so I'm having a hard time articulating my thoughts. I'm looking forward to seeing what you thought, too.

message 7: by Heather (new)

Heather I would never have a child under such circumstances. What a weird concept.

message 8: by Penny (new) - added it

Penny Yeah, it would only make sense if the government was making these teenagers procreate. Otherwise, I can see the vast majority of these teens rejecting the notion even if their upbringing conditioned them to think otherwise.

message 9: by Penny (new) - added it

Penny Actually, even if the government was forcing these teens to have babies I'm sure most of them would reject the notion, or at least try to.

Tatiana Considering that the government itself would consist of young people, I can't see how this could work... Well, the way it was written I don't see how it can work.

message 11: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Eeeeyyyeeeewwwww!

Tatiana wrote: "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."

This paragraph was enough. Enough!

But Tatiana, I have to say I enjoyed reading the rest of the review. It's very hard to accept that when writing a dystopia some basic science wouldn't at first be researched, isn't it?

Oh well. Whatever sells.

message 12: by Penny (new) - added it

Penny G N wrote: "Oh well. Whatever sells. "

Pretty much. So depressing. I keep thinking I'd better have a good stockpile of worthwhile books for my girls to read, otherwise they'll grow up thinking this sort of stupid crap is actually good. And I can't handle that.

Crowinator I had similar problems with the holes in the world-building, especially the logistics of the "virus" (which seems more like a genetic defect than a biological virus) and the repercussions in societies across the world.

For example, the premise is that children who are "flawed naturally" ceased to be conceived in favor of this new technology (basically, in favor of genetically engineered embryos). This leads populations in every continent to be decimated when the children of these genetically engineered people have shortened life spans. Which means that everyone in the world would have had to receive one of these embryos in the first place, because otherwise, people reproducing naturally would continue to have normal babies with normal health problems and life spans. Right? And how could everyone in the world stop reproducing naturally and be artificially inseminated with perfect embryos? There would be people too poor for such treatment, and people against it for religious reasons, and people for whom such technology isn't feasible because of the poverty of their nations. These people would continue to reproduce naturally, and those normal babies should not be affected by what seems to me more of a genetic defect arising from the initial embryos (a mutation of the original genetic code), than an actual virus. So, how could everyone in the world have this defect, so much so that only North America is even populated anymore?

Maybe it's because I hang out with doctors too much, but just calling something a "virus" doesn't mean it can behave however you want it to.

I did enjoy the relationships among the sister wives, however. Some of it was well-written, but I couldn't get over the fundamental flaws in the world-building.

message 14: by Tatiana (last edited Jan 03, 2011 07:56AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana Yes, Crowinator, you've brought up a very good point. I although was thinking - was it a virus or a genetic flaw? These are two completely different things as far as I know. If it's a virus, then there can be an antidote found I suppose. But what about genetics they kept talking about?

Tatiana Ashley, I don't think they are more prone to some decease. They way it's written, as their death time approaches - 20 and 25 - they start coughing up blood and then they are dead. It would be a strange decease that acts in such a timely manner...

MB (What she read) Interesting review! You make great points Tatiana. When I read this type of poorly planned/explained plot, I wonder if the author has an agenda. (i.e. procreating is the most important goal of humans.) Did you get that sense? (I'm not planning to read the book, so your answer won't affect that for me.)

message 17: by Tatiana (last edited Jan 03, 2011 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana No, I didn't get that idea from it. I thought it hadn't been thought through very well. Just something written because dystopian stories are in vogue right now.

MB (What she read) Hmmm, maybe she was just trying to cannibalize parts of 'The Handmaids Tale' for a new and younger audience without thinking about it much. Too bad! That book was chilling because the set-up was so plausible.

Crowinator Tatiana, they refer to it as a virus several times in the book, but the "virus" really acts like a genetic mutation that arose from genetic tampering. Whatever it is, it should only afflict the successive generations of these initial genetically engineered people, but apparently everybody in the world quit having babies the natural way, so it afflicts everyone.

It just doesn't make sense. A virus could spread world-wide and kill off continents of people, but a genetic mutation that specifically affects the offspring of people who've been genetically engineered doesn't make sense to me. At least not in the timeline she presents.

I think she's trying to have it both ways -- she's using the idea of a rapidly spreading virus to describe what you rightly called a genetic flaw, and it doesn't work.

Tatiana Thanks for explaining, Crowinator, you are much better versed in these scientific things than I am. I am very much enjoying your perspective. You focused on the science aspects of the story whereas I was mostly stuck on social. Either way, the world building in this novel is flawed.

Hope I will eventually see your review:)

message 21: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey I found this after following someone's "liked" comment. I think it boils down the inherent issues in dystopian fiction quite well. Understanding the way the current world and its society works is a must to inverting the system.

Tatiana Thanks, Lindsey.

Gabry Sucks that the recent dystopians are not really that good. I'll choose wisely then.

Just curious but- are you going to read Divergent?

Tatiana If I get an early copy somehow, then probably yes. Otherwise, only if I read some good reviews of it.

Nidhi Thomas I actully don't care about scientific stuff, all I need to know she an author sitting in a room, creating a world and stuff that is just imagination, not real and maybe just a thought or a theory, just imagination and that is alll that makes me happy read love or hate review and then move on to another fantasy book and on it goes.
I actully do agree with you in some parts though,I really do.

message 26: by Scribble (last edited Jan 22, 2011 02:06AM) (new)

Scribble Orca Hey KI. Not old-fashioned. Otherwise I'm ultra old-fashioned. No, it's because children are being sexualised before they are teens, and adults are using power and authoritarianism as a means to obtain conformity/obedience from children. Still. And while we are forcing adulthood on children faster, again - the brief respite being (open for debate) the late Victorian era until the 70's).

The message and the means become confused at a sensitive developmental stage - puberty. The problem is compounded because girls usually develop faster than boys. There used to be an old saying, and it seems to hold true in terms of the mental as much as the physical, and I have always found it to be utterly disgusting and completely chauvinistic.

"Old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher." All we are now doing is coaching children into giving up their childhoods through consumerism with the promise of control when adulthood (bleeding = lack of control, butchering = control) is attained.

Gross. Very, very, gross.

message 27: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Parenting for a Peaceful World

The title of this book is a little misleading, although after reading the book, it's probably the best title it could have.

I recommend it for a good historical investigation of the effects of parenting styles on the development of society, as well as understanding how parenting styles shape emerging personalities. The book also looks at the different stages of ego development and the impacts of parenting, and how that shapes interactions and behaviours as an adult.

This book ought to be a must-read in school curriculums as both a social science and biology text.

If you look at advertising, you will see that we subject children (de-sensitise them) to sexualisation, and it is usually exploitation of female bodies (represented in particular way) which reinforce the idea of being beautiful and desirable through humiliation.

Having lived in Cairo for the last 3 years, I reversed my freedom-of-speech stance on the wearing of face and body coverings, because it represents an insult to both males and females. Males, because it is assumed by females that males are medulla-driven out-of-control savages incapable of controlling their slavering lust for females, unless the female form is hidden from view. Females, because they are taught that they are to blame for the loss of male self-control if they do not keep themselves covered.

The same thing is going on in non-Muslim civilisation - it's just presented in a diametrically opposite way.

message 28: by Cory (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cory G N wrote: "Parenting for a Peaceful World

The title of this book is a little misleading, although after reading the book, it's probably the best title it could have.

I recommend it for a good..."

Very interesting opinion on the situation in Muslim countries. I agree wholeheartedly. I swear when I lived in Luxor, my mom got checked out by almost every guy around -- and she was married!

message 29: by Misty (new) - added it

Misty Aww, frowny face. It's so pretty. Dammit.

message 30: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Exactly.

message 31: by Sheralyn (new) - added it

Sheralyn good points. I won't bother with this one. Such a cool name for a book and pretty cover picture..sigh..

I am Bastet I love the way you call out YA dystopian lit. It's something I've been struggling with, too, the more I read this stuff. The worlds just aren't built enough, and the reactions of the characters who live in the worlds don't make any logical sense whatsoever, and yet we're given no indication that these people have been conditioned to think in a certain way. I'll probably read this one anyway, but I don't think my expectations will be high.

message 33: by Tatiana (last edited Feb 07, 2011 05:57PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana I'll be looking forward to reading your opinion about this. Dystopias require much more development than many authors seem to think. But I guess many readers do not like to read into books as hard as I do...

I am Bastet I like to read into them as hard as I can! I feel like they take at least as much work as any non-modern fantasy world, if not more (depending on the fantasy world, depending on the dystopia) yet I feel like the amount of effort isn't any more than if the books were contemporary YA set in a school slightly different from one with which the reader would be familiar.

Also, is this book some high-profile thing? I feel like I'm seeing a lot of ARC reviews.

Tatiana I think it's being hyped quite heavily. Sort of like Delirium and Matched, only from Simon & Schuster. A lot of promo, a lot of ARCs.

I am Bastet Well considering how flat I felt Matched fell, my hopes aren't up for this one.

Tatiana This one is finitely gorier.

I am Bastet I suppose that's a plus...

I'm not even sure I get the appeal of dystopian books.

Donna Glad to know I'm not the only one that had fundamental issues with the story. Based on all of the reviews out there raving about this book, I thought I'd be standing alone. Looks like I'm not.

The scientific theory alone has me scratching my head because it just doesn't make sense.

Alethea A I actually *really* enjoyed this book. I agree with you on the topic of believability--that it's a big factor in whether a person likes a book or not, and I'm reading primarily for enjoyment. I am reading another book right now that I had to put down after 100 pages, that people are touting as the next Twi-(*coughcoughcough*) but I just can't go on reading. I might skim it. I don't buy it at all! But I know someone else will probably really enjoy it (I know 2 that love, and 2 that hate this book).

I noticed you're reading Eona now--wondering how you will like it at the end; I really disliked the first book and am really just hoping someone will summarize for me what happens in the next one, so I don't have to read it :D

Anyway, c'est la vie--more Wither for me :) I'm sure there are books out there that I think are total poppycock (wait, does anyone actually use that word still? besides me) and that other people gobble up like candy.

Tatiana Alethea, remind me to summarize it for you once I am done with Eona - I normally don't spoil much in my reviews. Although are you really interested if you disliked the 1st book?

Alethea A I just want to know what the heck happens, because I liked the concept, but disliked the execution. Certain things I won't bother trying to find out more (like Eragon, which I never finished, and would be happy to leave alone for good and ever). I do want to know how things series like Blue Bloods & Dragoneye turn out, where I don't care for the writing, but I think the mythology is intriguing. Maybe we can just message about it one day, so no one gets spoiled. :)

Tatiana Sure, no problem. I can understand the curiosity factor and had people recap books I never wanted to read for me:)

message 44: by Dinjolina (new) - added it

Dinjolina Am I crazy or reading this wrong?
They have polygamy.
Why? Because males die at 25 and women at 20.
But that leaves us with more men.
So why would men have multiple wives?
Should it not be the other way around?

Alethea A @Dinjolina - It's not about quantity, it's who has the power in their society. In the real world, it's never made sense to me that family lineage/birthrights were patriarchal. You can't be TOO sure who the baby's father is, but you're pretty much sure that baby just came out of *that* screaming, sweating woman over there, er, I mean, the mother :)

message 46: by Anthony (new)

Anthony I've had WITHER recommended to me by a couple of people, ravingly so, so it's refreshing to see a review by someone who didn't like the book. Gives me a more balanced perspective on whether to read the book or not.

Loved your reference to Paolo Bacigalupi's story. I did like that one. I'm also enjoying The Hunger Games and should backtrack to see if you've reviewed it.

Rachel While I do value the opinions of others, I feel that some of the main points taken up in this review are fundamentally wrong. The reviewer makes it seem that all people in this world want to procreate and that there is basically no opposition to this concept, when, in fact, most of the characters are strongly against it. The main character herself has no interest in procreation. The only characters that DO value this are Linden's father and one of the wives.

Taking all of this into consideration, I can't think that this reviewer spent any time actually thinking about the characters and their motivations in the story. It feels to me that this person opened the book with no intentions of enjoying it, and if that is the case, why read it at all?

message 48: by Tatiana (last edited Apr 02, 2011 07:47PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tatiana Well, Rachel, thank you for making your comment so personal. And thank you for talking about me as "this person." Very nice of you.

And considering that stealing girls and impregnating them by men seems to be a widespread practice, this person thinks it's fair to deduce that a very large part of the (male) population is very much preoccupied with procreation.

Sharon I'm cannot finish this book. My eyes are bleeding. It is so bad!

message 50: by M. (new) - added it

M. Thank you for writing this review. One more book to take off my to read list.

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